Why Did It Take So Long To Nominate Loretta Lynch for Attorney General?
By Mary Jacoby | November 9, 2021 10:53 pm

If any Barack Obama nominee can get confirmed in the new Republican-led Congress next year for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch is an excellent choice. The U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn is a highly qualified, non-controversial candidate who would make history as the first black woman to lead the Justice Department.

What’s not excellent is the negligent manner in which the president went about — finally — nominating someone for the nation’s top law enforcement position.

Eastern New York U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch speaks after President Barack Obama announced her nomination for Attorney General Saturday. (Getty)

Attorney General Eric Holder gave a private heads-up to the president in August that he wanted to depart after more than five years on the job - plenty of time to settle on a nominee and secure confirmation before midterm elections that wiped out the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill.

A nominee should have been ready to go when Congress reconvened in September. But no nominee was announced.

The administration’s disarray on the top Justice Department post has been evident in the ever-shifting marquee of “front-runners” for the job — all, unlike Lynch, Washington insiders who fit inside the president’s comfort zone.

First, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was declared a likely successor. Then it was White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler (who was politically untenable and took herself out of contention last month). Labor Secretary (and former Civil Rights Division chief) Tom Perez had his 15 minutes.

As for Lynch herself - she was initially mentioned for the Deputy Attorney General job until Holder, the president’s alter ego, apparently persuaded Obama of her merits. (Now, Cleveland U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach is being floated for the DOJ’s No. 2 position.)

Then, there was the problem of the ever-shifting time table for getting a nominee confirmed.

First, it was: Let’s get it done right away while Democrats still had control of the Senate.

Later, the administration let it be known that well, maybe it would be better to hold off until after the mid-term elections to mute the controversial Justice Department job as a campaign issue against vulnerable Democrats (a lot of good that did.) The thought was to ram someone through in a lame-duck session between November and Christmas.

Then, the storyline became, well, we’ll try to do it sometime in 2015.

Now, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is adamant that Lynch be considered by the new 114th Congress that begins in January. The White House has already signaled that it won’t try to push her through in the lame duck session.

But, by giving in so quickly on timing, the White House has removed a potential bargaining chip between the outgoing Democratic majority and the Republicans - some of whom have have already insisted that Obama take executive action on immigration reform off the table as a condition of confirmation.

In the end, Lynch will probably get confirmed, after McConnell said he wanted to find common ground with the president in the new Congress. And Democrats can point to their willingness to confirm a more controversial nominee for George W. Bush’s last year in office - former U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey, who won the support of six breakaway Democrats in November 2007 despite his refusal to condemn waterboarding as torture.

But the situation today remains unpredictable. If, by some chance, Lynch isn’t confirmed, then the nation’s top law enforcement agency could go rudderless for the next two years. If that happens, everyone will know whom to blame.


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