Sometimes it seems as if sanity has returned to Capitol Hill. Recently, lawmakers approved fast-track authority for the president’s trade talks with Pacific nations and passed an important bill on Medicare reimbursement rates. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously agreed on a framework for reviewing the nuclear deal with Iran.
That’s all great, but where does that leave the nomination of Loretta Lynch to become attorney general of the United States? Exactly nowhere. Stuck in political limbo.
The Senate’s failure to approve Ms. Lynch is a symptom of Congress’ confounding dysfunction. Despite occasional outbreaks of common sense when actual work gets done, lawmakers more often than not get themselves tied up in knots for no good reason. In many cases, as with the Lynch nomination, these tangles are unrelated to the substantive issue.
In her case, the delay has nothing to do with her politics. Or her gender. Or the fact that she’s black. And certainly not her job qualifications nor her record. It’s about the way that powerful members of the upper chamber, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, can manage to shoot themselves in the foot in the process of doing the nation’s business.
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Sen. McConnell has refused to bring the nomination to the floor — where Ms. Lynch probably has the votes to succeed, including Republicans who voted for her in committee — as long as the Senate is stalemated over a human-trafficking bill with an abortion provision that Democrats don’t like. Simple solution: Remove the abortion issue from the bill, where it doesn’t belong, pass the bill and bring the nomination to the floor.
Ms. Lynch, a distinguished career prosecutor, has already been confirmed by the Senate on two previous occasions for positions in the federal government, including her current job as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Only partisan mischief caused by the abortion provision has kept this nomination from coming to a vote.
If it continues, there will be other partisan complaints over ideology — President Obama’s ideology. That case is built on Republican opposition to the president’s executive actions on immigration and Ms. Lynch’s congressional testimony in support of the Justice Department’s analysis of the legality of his decision.
There may be legitimate questions over what he did, but it’s not reasonable to expect that the president would nominate someone who disagrees.
It’s self-defeating for Republicans to hold up the nomination because it means Attorney General Eric Holder — for whom they reserve a special disdain — will remain in place for the rest of President Obama’s term. How does his staying in place serve their aims?
It’s also self-defeating because Ms. Lynch is the first African-American woman picked for the post, and Republicans shouldn’t want to be seen as rejecting a historic nomination — especially as a presidential campaign goes into high gear. Even Jeb Bush has called on the Senate to act. He gets how bad this looks for his party.
Last week, Republicans reached the 100-day milestone of having Congress under their party’s control. They’re eager to shed the do-nothing, dysfunctional label. They’ve made some encouraging progress, but it only serves to highlight the embarrassing failure to act on the Lynch nomination.
She was picked for the job by President Obama on Nov. 8, almost six months ago. She has the qualifications. She has the experience. She likely has the votes. She should have the job.