African-American civil rights leaders and members of Congress are calling on the Senate to immediately confirm Loretta Lynch as the first Black female attorney general of the United States.
They’re harshly criticizing Republicans and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for making Lynch wait longer than any attorney general candidate in the past 30 years to get a vote—even though her qualifications are widely praised and she was already confirmed by the Senate twice as a U.S. attorney.
“The politics that Republicans have played with Ms. Lynch’s nomination are deplorable,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, on a press call with other Black leaders.
Butterfield also called it “unprecedented” that Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), from Lynch’s own home state, voted against Lynch in the judiciary committee.
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It’s been four months since Lynch’s nomination was announced, and the 20 days since she finally cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee are longer than the past five attorney general nominees combined have had to wait for a vote.
“When women all over this country see the right person for the job at the right time flawlessly perform, and still be denied the opportunity for an up or down vote on being able to get the job, it sends a very toxic message,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“All over this country, women are watching, African-American women are watching, the civil rights community is watching,” Ifill said.
McConnell is holding up Lynch’s confirmation vote until the Senate reaches some kind of agreement on a human trafficking bill. Democrats are blocking the bill, which they used to support, until Republicans agree to remove anti-choice language that would expand the reach of the Hyde Amendment. Some advocates argue that the bill shouldn’t pass even without the Hyde language.
“The actions of Mitch McConnell are petty and mean-spirited,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH).
McConnell’s justification for holding up the nomination is “flimsy at best,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“We all know senators can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Henderson said, pointing out that it’s easily possible for the Senate to vote on Lynch’s nomination while debate over the trafficking bill is still going on.
The issues of racial and gender bias also came up.
“The fact that she is a woman, the fact that she is Black, I think plays a major and a pivotal role in why it taken this long,” said Paulette Walker, national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, of which Lynch is a member.
“I think race certainly can be considered as a major factor in the reason for this delay, but it’s also the irrationality of the new Republicans,” Butterfield said. He said the new Tea Party wing is more extreme than conservative Republicans used to be, and that the two parties used to at least be able to agree on getting nominations confirmed at the end of the day.
“Rather than focus solely on the motivation of the Senate—in other words, are they doing this because she is an African-America woman…I think it’s about, what are women writ large, and African-American women, perceiving when they watch this?” Ifill said. “It’s not just what the intentions are, it’s about how it’s being internalized by the broader American public.”
She added that the delay is also about opposition to President Obama, “which is not free from matters of race as well.”
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) said Wednesday on the Senate floor that the GOP is forcing Lynch to “sit in the back of the bus” by using the trafficking bill as an excuse to hold up her nomination.
“Loretta Lynch will be fine,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who says he opposes Lynch’s confirmation. “The young women who are being sexually trafficked now and mistreated are not gonna be fine.”