Senate nearing deal to confirm Lynch

The Senate is nearing a deal that would clear the way for Loretta Lynch to be confirmed as the first African-American woman to serve as attorney general.

A senior Senate Republican aide said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hopes this week to pass a long-delayed anti-human-trafficking bill, confirm Lynch and begin work on bipartisan legislation that would establish congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran.

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A vote on Lynch could happen Wednesday or Thursday, Senate aides said, pending a deal on and quick passage of the trafficking bill, which has been held up by a fight over abortion language.

But some Republicans are pushing for votes on amendments to the trafficking bill, including a proposal from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would require background checks of workers with unsupervised access to children.

In addition, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) wants a vote on an amendment curtailing birthright citizenship, according to Senate aides.

Pressure has steadily built on McConnell to schedule a vote on Lynch, with calls coming even from members of his own party, such as likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush and New York Rep. Peter King.

“As soon as we get the trafficking bill locked down, she’ll be next,” said a GOP aide of Lynch.

Senate aides say they are close to a deal on the trafficking bill, though Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cautioned on Monday that nothing was final.

“As of right now, we don’t have an agreement to place the finishing touches on our work on the bill, but we’re working on that goal,” Reid said on the Senate floor.

Reid has a reputation for talking tough right up until a deal is announced to gain as much leverage as possible in negotiations.

He and other Democrats believe the delay in voting on Lynch’s nomination, which far exceeds the waiting times of her five predecessors, is becoming a political liability for the GOP.

“Some Republicans are embarrassed. They know there is no rationale for delaying a vote for America’s chief law enforcement officer,” he said on the Senate floor.

As of Monday, Lynch has waited 53 days for a floor vote since passing out of the Judiciary Committee. The longest any of her five predecessors had to wait was eight days.

President Obama nominated her for attorney general more than 160 days ago.

“They’re feeling the heat on Lynch and want to get it done as soon as possible,” a senior Senate Democratic aide said. 

The aide pointed to what Democrats describe as a shift by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chamber’s majority whip, to be more accommodating on abortion language in the trafficking bill.

Cornyn proposed new language on the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding for abortion, that is similar to that used in the bipartisan Medicare deal that passed the Senate last week.

He also offered to restructure a $30 million fund for victims of sex crimes so that the money comes directly from the federal coffers, rather than legal fines, according to a summary provided by his office.

But with prominent Republicans joining the chorus calling for swift action on Lynch, Democrats feel they have the upper hand.

“In an effort to try to get us unstuck ... I have tried to take something that virtually all Democrats have voted for previously and put that in the provision in order to eliminate their cause for concern,” Cornyn said.

“I think presidents have the right to pick their team,” Bush, one of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, said last week in New Hampshire.

“If someone is supportive of the president’s policies, whether you agree with them or not, there should be some deference to the executive,” he said.  

King, a moderate Republican from New York, on Sunday accused some of his fellow Republicans of playing political games.

“All you’ve heard from our party for a very long time is how much contempt they have for [current Attorney General Eric] Holder,” King said, according to the New York Daily News. “Now they’re presented with Loretta Lynch, who is by far the best attorney general they could ever have expected this president to appoint, and they still hold the thing up.”

Five Senate Republicans have announced their support for Lynch, giving her the minimum 51 votes she needs to be confirmed.

The Republicans supporting Lynch’s nomination are Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) — all members of the Judiciary Committee — and moderate Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Susan Collins (Maine).

“I found her very impressive and I think she deserves to be confirmed,” Collins told The Hill. “For those in my caucus who have been upset with some of the decisions made by Attorney General Holder, as I have been, the sooner he can be replaced by a career prosecutor, the better off our country will be.”

Ten civil and human rights organizations, including the National Action Network, which is headed by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the NAACP wrote a letter to McConnell on Friday urging a vote on Lynch.

“There is an injustice allowing Loretta Lynch to hang in the balance and blocking this nomination,” the groups wrote.

— Tim Devaney contributed.