Supporters of New York’s Loretta Lynch, who was nominated November 8, 2014, by President Barack Obama to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General are trying to pressure Congressional Republicans to hold confirmation hearings in the full Senate.
She has already been confirmed on a 12-8 vote on February 26 by the Senate Judiciary Committee. This vote included all Democrats of the committee and three Republicans in favor.
However, the confirmation process has stalled for various reasons.
According to the National Action Network, some of Lynches’ allies have launched a hunger strike and vowed to continue the action until she is confirmed.
The advocacy group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, along with female civil-rights leaders, are staging the hunger strike, in which groups of fasters will alternate days abstaining from food until Lynch is confirmed. Dubbed “Confirm Loretta Lynch Fast,” the new tactic is designed in the mold of actions by civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Cesar Chavez, organizers said.
“As long as the Senate refuses to take fifteen minutes to confirm someone for Attorney General that they have already confirmed twice for U.S. Attorney, National Action Network and its allies will do everything in our power to draw attention to this completely unfair and unnecessary delay to vote to confirm Loretta Lynch,” Sharpton said in a statement Wednesday.
The group’s executive director, Janaye Ingram, added: “We stand with Loretta Lynch and are so in support of this cause that we are willing to sacrifice our daily meals to impress upon the U.S. Senate that it’s time to call a vote.”
The hunger strike is part of a broader public pressure campaign for Republican leaders to quickly hold a confirmation vote for Lynch, who has been stuck in a nomination purgatory ever since she cleared the Judiciary Committee. Lynch, the current U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, would be the first Black woman to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement official.
Activists also plan to blitz Senate offices urging support for Lynch, write letters to the editor and op-eds, and launch a social media drive trying to bring attention to the effort.
At the same time, the National Bar Association (NBA), the nation’s largest Black legal organization, announced Women of Faith and Good Conscience Prayer Gathering and Capitol Hill visits April 15.
According to the NBA, April 15 marked the 158th day since President Obama nominated Lynch to serve as U.S. Attorney General. Democrats and Republicans are pointing fingers of blame at one another about who could have confirmed Lynch.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday morning that her nomination still hinges on first passing an anti-human trafficking bill, which Democrats have rejected over controversial abortion language.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) warned Wednesday that the Senate could further delay the confirmation hearings and bypassing the sex trafficking bill in order to deal with Iran review legislation that unanimously cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.
“Iran is a special case, so I’m not suggesting we hold up Iran for this,” Cornyn told reporters. “But I am suggesting we come back to it after Iran, particularly if [Democrats] want to release Eric Holder so they can let him make a lot of money in the private sector.”
Lynch has public support from five Senate Republicans: Orrin Hatch of Utah, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois. With support from all Senate Democrats, that would give Lynch 51 votes, enough to be confirmed.
Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) reiterated earlier this week that the chamber would not move on to Lynch until it resolves the dispute over that bill.
According to the website, Politico, the long-going partisan spat over the trafficking legislation took a even sharper rhetorical turn earlier Wednesday when the Senate’s two top leaders fought over the impasse in dueling speeches.
McConnell accused Democrats of choosing to aid doctors who serve Medicare patients, while shunning sex trafficking victims. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shot back that his counterpart’s complaints were “illogical” and devoid of facts.
The sweeping Medicare payments package that the Senate passed overwhelmingly on Tuesday night contains so-called “Hyde amendment” language that would bar funding for community health centers from being used on abortions. The abortion provision in the trafficking bill is similar, but instead of applying those restrictions to taxpayer funds, it would be for fines paid from trafficking offenders—which Democrats say goes too far.
“Democrats couldn’t possibly justify voting for Hyde language in order to help doctors, as they did hours ago, but then look an abused victim in the eye and tell her she’s not worth it,” McConnell said on Politico. “All that’s needed now are a couple more Democrats willing to show the same level of compassion to enslaved victims they offered to doctors just a few hours ago.”
Cornyn has offered an amendment that he says should assuage Democrats’ concerns. It would essentially rewrite language in the trafficking bill to mirror the abortion language in the Medicare measure. It would make the restitution fund in the trafficking bill—the source of the abortion dispute—be filled by appropriations, and the fines from traffickers would instead go direct to the Treasury.
But Democrats promptly rejected the offer. Reid called McConnell’s argument as “illogical as can be” because it’s standard for Hyde Amendment restrictions to apply to federal spending bills, whereas Cornyn’s compromise would still expand those curbs on abortion.
“We are not going to stand by to enlarge this so-called Hyde amendment to private money,” Reid fumed. He added that McConnell and Cornyn “feel that this is their opportunity to broaden Hyde, and we’re not going to allow that to happen. It would be wrong.”
The trafficking impasse began when Democrats unanimously helped the GOP carry the bill to the floor and then noticed the abortion language, leading to a saga with more twists and turns than on any bill that the full Senate has considered this year.
Reid says that Democrats have offered McConnell 10 amendments privately, while McConnell and Cornyn have now tried three times to get Democrats to approve the trafficking bill. But just four Democrats voted for those GOP offers, two short of the number needed to break a filibuster. Reid said the GOP is “unwilling to compromise,” while McConnell says it’s time for “senators of conscience to stand up and end this filibuster now.”
A vote on Cornyn’s latest offer is expected on Thursday. But it will fail, according to senior Democratic aides, leaving Lynch’s nomination on ice for at least a little while longer.
Still, that gives more time for undecided Republicans to make up their minds. Key swing GOP votes include Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.