clock menu more-arrow no yes

The GOP is working hard to keep Eric Holder in office

"Are you guys sure you want to do this?"
"Are you guys sure you want to do this?"
Chris Graythen/Getty

The nomination of Loretta Lynch for attorney general has been getting slow-walked for months. Now it's officially stalled in neutral.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced he won't bring up Lynch's nomination for a vote until the Senate takes a vote on a human-trafficking bill. (Democrats have blocked the trafficking bill so far, because it wouldn't allow money in a restitution fund to be used for abortions for trafficking victims.) Meanwhile, more Republicans are announcing they'll vote against her when she does come up.

But each day that passes before the Senate confirms a new attorney general is a day Eric Holder remains in charge of the Justice Department. Holder has promised not to resign until his successor is confirmed. So by delaying Lynch's confirmation, Republicans are prolonging the term of one of the people they hate the most in the entire Obama administration.

There's no argument against Loretta Lynch that isn't a better argument against Eric Holder

As loudly as Democrats are complaining about delaying the nomination for the nation's first black female attorney general, there isn't actually that much downside for them in Lynch not getting confirmed yet. Democrats have no problem with Eric Holder.

Republicans absolutely do. They hate Holder. The dominant theme of Lynch's confirmation hearings wasn't immigration — it was whether she'd be like Holder.

Republicans agreed during the hearings that her demeanor was a substantial improvement on Holder's. But they took issue with her comments about immigration: Lynch stood by President Obama's executive actions on immigration and said they were constitutional. That stance has been motivating GOP opposition to her nomination, which is firming up: this morning, two Tennessee senators announced they'd vote against her.

Delaying, and opposing, Lynch's confirmation makes sense if the GOP has decided Lynch wouldn't be an improvement on Holder at all. But that's hard to believe. After all, Holder is just as supportive of Obama's immigration actions as Lynch is.

And GOP opposition to Holder goes way beyond that — it's that Holder supports those policies, and that his DOJ has been the center of a couple of scandals, and that he hasn't been transparent, and that he's been testy with or outright mocked members of Congress during hearings. There's no reason any problem with Lynch moving in at the Justice Department isn't a bigger problem with Holder remaining there.

loretta lynch

Loretta Lynch, United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York and likely next attorney general. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

So what's the upside for the GOP?

The GOP might be trying to pressure Democrats to capitulate on abortion. Or they might be hoping to wait Lynch out. After all, if the Senate took a vote today, she'd still be confirmed — it's just that her margin of victory would be "razor thin" (in the words of Burgess Everett of Politico).

Maybe if they continue to wait, Republican senators who are now supportive of Lynch would change their minds. Or maybe, after enough time spent delaying, the White House would give up on Lynch and withdraw her nomination — or Lynch would take back her earlier statements and tell Republicans she now thinks the president's immigration actions were unconstitutional.

But frankly, abortion isn't that much less important an issue for Democrats than it is for Republicans. And the president's executive actions on immigration are extremely important to the White House. It's difficult to imagine an attorney general nominee agreeing that one of the president's key policy priorities is unconstitutional — whether that nominee is Lynch or someone else appointed in her stead.

Furthermore, if Republicans do succeed in scuttling Lynch, they'll have to go through the whole process over again — and Holder will remain in charge for several more months. It's hard to imagine how that would end up a win.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.