Senate votes 56-43 to confirm Lynch as attorney general

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Loretta Lynch for attorney general, clearing the way for her to become the first African-American woman to ever serve as the nation's top law enforcement official.

Senators voted 56-43 to confirm Lynch, more than 160 days after she was first nominated for the position by President Obama.

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Ten Republican senators broke ranks and sided with Democrats to get Lynch over the 50-vote threshold: Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Susan Collins (Maine), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

Ayotte, Kirk, Portman and Johnson are up for reelection in 2016. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate who said he would oppose Lynch, missed the vote.

"Today, the Senate finally confirmed Loretta Lynch to be America’s next Attorney General — and America will be better off for it," Obama said in a statement.

The president added that having Lynch in office "ensures that we are better positioned to keep our communities safe, keep our nation secure, and ensure that every American experiences justice under the law."

Attorney General Eric Holder, who has remained in office while the confirmation process played out, said he was "pleased" that the Senate had approved his successor.

"I am confident that Loretta will be an outstanding attorney general, a dedicated guardian of the Constitution, and a devoted champion of all those whom the law protects and empowers," Holder said.

Lynch received one of the closest votes in recent memory for an attorney general nominee. Conservative groups had been pressuring Republicans to oppose her over Obama's executive actions on immigration, among other things.

A cloture vote was taken to end debate on the nomination earlier Thursday — the first time that has ever happened for an an attorney general nominee.

Senators were first expected to vote on Lynch’s nomination in mid-March, but that was thrown into limbo as senators got bogged down in a fight over abortion restrictions in an unrelated bill to curb human trafficking.

Senators passed that legislation Wednesday, paving the way for Lynch’s nomination to come up for a vote.

The vote places Lynch squarely in the middle of Obama’s ongoing immigration battle.

Republicans have sparred repeatedly with Holder's Justice Department, and said they are hopeful she will make a clean break with his tenure.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said ahead of the votes that while “no one disputes that she has an impressive legal background,” the “question for me from the start has been whether Ms. Lynch will make a clean break from his policies and take the department in a new direction.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) added that senators should confirm someone who has “publicly committed to denigrating Congress [and] violating the laws of Congress.”

McConnell, the Senate majority leader, had repeatedly said that he believes Lynch deserved a vote, and voted to move forward with her nomination earlier Thursday.

Cruz slammed McConnell and Senate leaders for allowing for a vote.

“The Republican majority, if it so chose, could defeat this nomination,” he said. “I would note there are a few voters back home that are asking what exactly is the difference between a Democratic and Republican majority.”

The Texas senator added that he has asked leadership to block all of Obama’s executive and judicial nominees “unless and until the president rescinds his lawless amnesty.”

Democrats and a growing number of outside groups had been ramping up the pressure on McConnell to allow a vote on Lynch.

A group of supporters launched a hunger strike earlier this month to try to add pressure to bring up Lynch’s nomination, and The Washington Post slammed McConnell in an editorial.

Democrats praised Lynch ahead of the vote.

“This is a great historic moment,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said. “I only hope that Senate Republicans will only show her more respect as attorney general as the United States than she has received as nominee.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), likely the next Democratic leader, said that “there is one cloud on this sunny day and that is the long time it took to confirm her.”

The debate over the Lynch’s nomination had grown unusually heated, with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) saying Republicans were making her “sit in the back of the bus.”

Republicans quickly criticized the Illinois Democrat’s remarks, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor demanding an apology.

In addition to immigration, Lynch will likely have to weigh in on a wide array of issues including national security.

“The Department of Justice will continue to play a prominent role in dealing with high-profile issues, including national security, police-community relations and financial fraud,” said Hunton & Williams partner Timothy Heaphy. “Loretta Lynch will be at the forefront.”

Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney, worked with Lynch during his two-year term on the Attorney General's Advisory Committee.

It’s unclear when Lynch will be sworn in to replace Holder.

— This report was last updated at 2:58 p.m. 

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