Senate minority leader issues ultimatum after Republicans refuse to vote on attorney general until sex trafficking bill with controversial clause moves forward
The tense political struggle to make Loretta Lynch the next US attorney general threatened to break into all-out partisan warfare on Thursday, as Senate minority leader Harry Reid broke out a new procedure to force a vote on
the heated nomination, which has been held up for more than five months by Republican objections.
“I know parliamentary procedure around here. And we’re going to put up with this for a little while longer, but not much,” Reid told the MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. “I’m going to force a vote. If we don’t get something in soon, I will force a vote.”
Reid’s threat came as the Senate struggled to resolve the latest legislative obstacle to Lynch’s confirmation, in the form of a controversial abortion-related plank in a law to help victims of human trafficking. Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said he would not allow the Lynch vote until the trafficking bill moves forward.
The 160-day holdup for a vote on Lynch’s nomination to replace attorney general Eric Holder is, by one measure, twice as long as the sum total delays for the last seven attorneys general combined. On Thursday, Reid said that was too long.
“I had a conversation today with a number of Republicans and told them, we’ll either get her done, or I will make sure that they have an opportunity to vote against her,” Reid said.
As the majority party in the Senate, Republicans generally have discretion over the voting schedule, including votes on presidential nominations such as Lynch.
The White House has grown visibly frustrated with the process. On Thursday Valerie Jarrett, one of the president’s closest advisers, tweeted a link to a Washington Post editorial decrying the Senate’s “unconscionably shabby treatment” of Lynch.
“A must read,” Jarrett wrote.
Republicans have conceded that Lynch, the current US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, is amply qualified, and she is seen as having sufficient support to be confirmed, if she can attain a vote.
Republicans originally opposed the nomination based on Lynch’s support for President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, but their opposition is now tied to what they say is Democratic intransigence on an abortion plank in legislation to compensate victims of sex trafficking.
The Republican-authored bill would prevent compensation funds for sex-trafficking victims from being used for abortions. Some victims of sex trafficking seek abortions as part of the kind of medical treatment that the bill, which was introduced by the Republican senator John Cornyn of Texas, is otherwise designed to pay for.
Democrats have objected to what they call a Republican attempt to inject abortion politics into unrelated legislation, and to what they portray as an expansion of previous rules to prevent taxpayer funds from covering abortions.
It is ironic that Lynch’s nomination is being held up over legislation that would help sex-trafficking victims. As US attorney she led an investigation that rescued more than 100 victims of sex trafficking, including 17 minors, involved in a single network based in Mexico. Her office indicted 52 defendants in the case.
On Wednesday, a group of African-American women showed up unannounced at the door of McConnell to demand a vote on Lynch, who would be the nation’s first African-American woman to be attorney general.
McConnell’s communications director told the group that Lynch would be considered “as soon as we’re done with the anti-slavery bill”, in reference to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.