Ex-White House counsel withdraws from AG race

Former White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler is withdrawing her name from consideration to succeed Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderEric Holder to headline fundraiser for Clinton The Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE after President Obama approached her about the job.

"We can confirm the president asked Kathy to consider this, and she was among those the president had been looking at," a White House official said Friday.

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"Kathy took this step this week on her own volition, as she always has done, putting the president and administration first."

Ruemmler, who for years played a central advisory and policy role at the White House, was thought to be Obama's favorite for the job.

But her nomination could have sparked a tough confirmation battle, especially after a recent Washington Post story raised questions about how thoroughly she investigated allegations a White House volunteer may have solicited a prostitute ahead of a presidential trip to Colombia. 

The White House has defended her investigation as thorough and the volunteer maintains his innocence, but the issue would likely draw attention in a potential confirmation hearing. 

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough offered praise for Ruemmler in a statement issued Friday.

“Kathy is someone who always tells it like it is, is a world-class lawyer, and remains a trusted advisor to the President," McDonough said. "Anyone who knows Kathy knows she has impeccable judgment, extraordinary foresight — and is a formidable force. But she is also as selfless as they come, and the President is proud to call her a close friend.”

Ruemmler is the latest high-profile figure to withdraw their name from consideration.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), a longtime Obama friend; California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D); and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) have all said they were not interested in the position.

Speculation now appears focused on two leading candidates: Labor Secretary Tom Perez and the solicitor general, Donald Verrilli.

Perez, who previously ran the Justice Department's civil rights unit, has the backing of prominent civil liberties and minority organizations. His choice would be celebrated by many on the left eager for the next attorney general to carry on Holder's legacy of aggressive policymaking.

But Perez would also face a tough confirmation battle, and the White House is likely nervous about such a fight with Republicans favored to take control of the Senate in the midterm elections. 

Verrilli was a longtime corporate attorney who led copyright infringement cases for Viacom against YouTube and on behalf of the recording industry against peer-to-peer file-sharing service Grokster. He was confirmed as solicitor general in a 72-16 vote in 2011, winning the support of 26 Republicans.

But he too could prove a lightning rod, best known for arguing on behalf of the Obama administration in the 2012 Supreme Court case challenging the constitutionality of ObamaCare.

The White House has previously said they will not name their choice until after the midterm elections.

"Once the president has identified a candidate, we will build a confirmation strategy around the nominee and that includes questions of timing," the White House official said. "We will work in concert with Senate leadership on their schedule."

Previously, the White House indicated that the president was waiting to name Holder’s replacement partially at the request of Senate Democrats. Officials also believed that waiting until after voters head to the polls will keep the attorney general nomination from becoming mired in election-year politics.

But those comments suggested the White House has still not decided if it will push for a confirmation vote on a replacement during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Press secretary Josh Earnest previously implied that the White House preferred a quick confirmation, noting that Defense Secretary Robert Gates was nominated and confirmed during the 2006 lame-duck session, and that George W. Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey was confirmed within seven weeks of his nomination.

"So there is a precedent for presidents making important Cabinet nominations and counting on Congress to confirm them promptly, even in the context of a lame-duck session, if necessary," Earnest said.

But Republican lawmakers have requested the White House wait until the new Congress is seated.

"Rather than rush a nominee through the Senate in a lame-duck session, I hope the president will now take his time to nominate a qualified individual who can start fresh relationships with Congress so that we can solve the problems facing our country,” said Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Republican congressional aides have also questioned the feasibility of a lame-duck confirmation. The Senate does not reconvene until Nov. 12, and if lawmakers took the same seven work weeks they did for Mukasey, the soonest they could vote would be New Year's Eve,  assuming a highly unlikely schedule in which they took no break for Thanksgiving or Christmas.