By Mike DeBonis
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Senate reaches deal to vote on confirmation of Loretta Lynch
By Mike DeBonis
Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, nominated by President Obama in November, will get a confirmation vote in the coming days under a deal announced Tuesday morning by Senate leaders that ends a weeks-long impasse sparked by partisan divides over immigration and abortion.
"I'm glad we can now say there is a bipartisan proposal that will allow us to complete action on this important legislation," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday morning about a bill combating human trafficking that became a roadblock to Lynch's confirmation. "As soon as we finish the trafficking bill ... we'll move to the president's nominee for attorney general hopefully in the next day or so."
Democrats have filibustered the anti-trafficking since it came to the Senate floor in late February due to abortion restrictions embedded within it, and Republicans vowed not to move forward with Lynch's confirmation until the trafficking bill is dealt with. The deadlock was broken after both parties agreed on language specifying that a victims' fund established by the legislation would not be used for healthcare or medical services -- and thus not for abortions. Victims would be eligible for health care under a separate program already subject to the longstanding abortion restrictions known as the Hyde Amendment.
The deal came together after weeks of tough talk from both sides and mounting pressure from outside groups urging Republican leaders to move forward with an up-or-down vote on Lynch.
Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) came to the floor Monday afternoon to accuse Republicans of "pushing around Loretta Lynch for sport" and trying to "dupe American women." But behind the scenes, staff continued efforts to hash out a deal.
"This is really good news," Reid announced Tuesday morning, speaking on the Senate floor after McConnell. "This compromise is evidence that when Republicans and Democrats sit down together and work toward a solution, great things can happen. The Senate needs more of this." Fifty-one senators have publicly stated their support for Lynch, likely assuring her confirmation once McConnell brings it to the floor.
Senate Republican leader felt increasing pressure to move forward with Lynch, not so much because of the Democratic attacks, but because of their own high hopes for a productive six-week work session. Waiting for floor consideration are major policy measures, including a bipartisan bill setting out a congressional review of a potential nuclear deal with Iran, a bill to strengthen national cybersecurity efforts and, next month, legislation granting President Obama "fast track" trade authority.
The Senate could start taking up amendments to the trafficking bill later Tuesday, setting up a vote for final passage late Tuesday or Wednesday. Unless all senators agree to move forward with Lynch's confirmation, which is unlikely given the rancor surrounding her nomination, a procedural vote would have to take place -- pushing her confirmation until Thursday or perhaps early next week.
Pitfalls remain -- particularly in the amendments that might be offered to the anti-trafficking bill. Reid on Tuesday warned Republican leaders to be "very, very careful" as they move forward.
"Each side is going to have to be cautious in what they offer, because any one of those amendments, as we know, can cause a mini filibuster, or a maxi filibuster, depending on how you look at it," he said. "We don't need to get involved in that."