Senate reaches deal to vote on AG nominee Loretta Lynch

Senate leaders on Tuesday morning announced a deal on a long-stalled anti-human-trafficking bill, setting up a vote to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general as soon as tomorrow.

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“I’m glad we can say there is a bipartisan proposal that will allow us to complete action on this legislation so we can provide help to the victims who desperately need it,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDems leery of Planned Parenthood cuts spark Senate scuffle Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Senate passes Puerto Rico debt relief bill MORE (R-Ky.) announced on the Senate floor.

“As soon as we finish the trafficking bill, as I’ve indicated for some time now, we’ll move to the president’s nominee for attorney general in the next day or so,” he added.

Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he expected final passage of the anti-trafficking bill "by tomorrow."

Cornyn and Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.) negotiated compromise language on abortion to spring the trafficking bill from a stalemate.

The agreement calls for funding a domestic trafficking victims’ fund with federal dollars appropriated by Congress and money collected from criminal offenders, preserving the prohibition on federal funds being used to pay for abortion services but not expanding it.

“I’m thrilled we were finally able to come together to break the impasse over this vital legislation, and I look forward to swift passage in the Senate so we can ensure victims of human trafficking receive the resources they need to restore their lives,” Cornyn said.

Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), who helped hash out the deal, claimed victory.

“After weeks of stalling on the bipartisan human trafficking bill, our Republican colleagues have agreed not to expand the scope of the Hyde language,” he said.

However, Reid warned that "although we have an agreement on the legislation we're not out of the woods yet." He noted Democrats want to debate all amendments that get made to the bill.

The White House also said it could back the deal.

Press secretary Josh Earnest said the fact that Democratic supporters of abortion rights, such as Sen. Patty Murray, are backing it is an "encouraging sign."

“If we see strong Democratic support ... then that certainly seems like the kind of thing that the president would support," Earnest said.
 
The agreement on human trafficking sets up a vote on Lynch Wednesday or Thursday.

Pressure has been building on Republicans for weeks to move Lynch, who has been waiting for a floor vote 54 days since passing out the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A senior Democratic aide said the precise timing for Lynch will depend on how many amendments rank-and-file Republicans want to vote on related to the trafficking bill.

“They have to keep their amendments down,” the aide said of the prospect of Republicans voting on Lynch by Wednesday.

Five Republicans have voiced their support for Lynch, who would become the first African-American woman to serve as attorney general, giving her 51 votes, just enough, to win confirmation.

She would become the nation’s 83rd attorney general.

Earnest urged the Senate to move quickly toward confirming Lynch.
 
"I would encourage them once again, after 164 days of delay, to move forward with her confirmation," he said. 

The human trafficking bill does not provide any funding for victims of sex crimes to obtain abortions but it does not expand the so-called Hyde Amendment to prohibit funds gathered from criminal fines from being used for abortion services.

Under the compromise, funds collected from fines may be used for legal services but not healthcare. A second funding stream for healthcare services would come from Community Health Center funding, which Congress approved recently in a deal to permanently fix cuts in doctors’ Medicare payments. This health funding is subject to the Hyde restriction and cannot be used for abortions.

A Democratic aide acknowledged it was “not a perfect deal.”

But Democrats consider it a victory because they believe putting a restriction on the use of private funds for abortions would have set a troublesome precedent.

“I’m pleased that we were able to reach a deal that gets this done in a way that does not expand restrictions on women’s health to non-taxpayer dollars or to new programs, and provides survivors with real dedicated funds for the support and services they need,” Murray said.

— This report was updated at 2:40 p.m.

Jordan Fabian, Sarah Ferris and Jordain Carney contributed to this story.