After one of the nation’s most protracted cabinet-level confirmation delays, the Senate Thursday approved Loretta E. Lynch to be attorney general. She is the first African American woman to hold the position.
Lynch, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, was confirmed 56 to 43, with 10 Republicans voting for her.
Her confirmation took longer than that for all but two other nominees for the office: Edwin Meese III, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan, and A. Mitchell Palmer, who was picked by President Woodrow Wilson, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Republicans have found themselves in a quandary for months. They longed to replace Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. And they agreed that Lynch was qualified for the job. But they opposed her because Lynch defended President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
What’s more, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader, had held up the nomination until the Senate voted on a human trafficking bill, a process that dragged on for weeks. The measure passed on Wednesday by a vote of 99 to 0.
And some Republicans continued to strongly oppose Lynch.
“We do not have to confirm someone to the highest law enforcement position in America if that someone has committed to denigrating Congress,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, said on the Senate floor Thursday. “We don’t need to be apologetic about it, colleagues.”
In the end several Republicans (to the surprise of many of their own colleagues) voted aye for Lynch, including Sen. McConnell.
Some conservative groups had called on Senate Republicans to block a vote on Lynch altogether because of her stance on the president’s immigration policies. Many Senate Republicans feared the party would face serious political repercussions if it blocked an African American woman with strong credentials and enthusiastic support from many in law enforcement.
Opponents still forced a procedural vote before her final confirmation, an unusual requirement for such a high position. The nomination moved along easily, by a vote of 66 to 34.
“She is a historic nominee, but also Senate Republicans are making history,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.
“And I would say for the wrong reasons. I can only hope that Senate Republicans will show her more respect as the attorney general of the United States than they did as a nominee. She has earned this respect. Her story is one of perseverance, of grace and grit.”