03.26.15

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, On the Nomination of Loretta Lynch to Serve as Attorney General of the United States

One great responsibility that distinguishes the United States Senate is our constitutional role of advice and consent.  We have a solemn duty to consider nominees for positions of great importance to the Nation, some of which are lifetime appointments.  Every day that the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the next Attorney General awaits a floor vote is another day the Senate fails to function as it should.

The Attorney General is our Nation’s top law enforcement official.  The position is critical to protecting our national security and our most cherished civil rights.  It is a position of honor and one that deserves respect.  And even though Senators have not always agreed with the President’s choice, there used to be a mutual respect for the position and the process of filling it.  That proud history is being debased here in the Senate today.  The Republican majority has turned this vital position – and the highly respected nominee – into a bargaining chip to be leveraged for political gain.  This is not how to treat a position of such important to law enforcement and our national security.

When I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I did not support the nomination of Michael Mukasey, the choice of President George W. Bush.  But I did not obstruct the process or deny the Senate a vote.  To the contrary, we treated the position and the nominee with the historic respect they both deserve.  Judge Mukasey received a floor vote just 2 days after he was reported from Committee and he was confirmed just 53 days after his nomination was announced. That process stands in sharp contrast to that of Ms. Lynch.  It has now been 28 days since she was reported out of committee and 137 days since her nomination was first announced.

The treatment of this excellent nominee is beneath the dignity of this body.  In January, Ms. Lynch testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee for nearly 8 hours and she responded to nearly 900 written questions.  Not a single witness invited by Republicans opposed her nomination.  When Republicans stalled consideration of Ms. Lynch’s nomination in Committee, Democrats noted the unnecessary delay and raised concerns about filling this vital position.  Senator Cornyn dismissed this as “faux outrage.”  But in November 2007, Senator Cornyn complained that a seven week process on the Mukasey nomination threatened our national security.  He issued a press release stating:

“It is imperative that the president has his national security team at full strength and the unnecessary delay of Judge Mukasey’s nomination has prevented that.  He deserves an immediate up-or-down vote by the full Senate.”

Loretta Lynch’s nomination has now been pending more than 19 weeks.  Where is the outrage now?  Where is the concern for the President’s national security team to be at full strength?

Similarly, in early October 2007 – just three weeks after Mr. Mukasey’s nomination was announced, the Republican Leader criticized me for not yet having set a hearing date, saying that Democrats should “not hold Judge Mukasey hostage while they play partisan games.”  That was after three weeks.  We are now on week nineteen for Ms. Lynch – that is more than six times as long and Senator McConnell has openly linked her confirmation to partisan politics by linking her vote to demands on legislation.

Senate Republicans’ handling of the nomination process for the Nation’s top law enforcement officer has been disgraceful.  And all of this after Senate Democrats agreed not to process her nomination during the lame duck because the current Majority Leader reassured us that she would be treated fairly.  Unfortunately, that has not been the case.  No one can deny that Ms. Lynch is eminently qualified for the job.  No one can deny that her nomination is an historic one.  No one can deny that her record safeguarding our Nation from terrorists and criminals is beyond reproach.  And no one can deny – based on the objective numbers – that she is being treated worse than her predecessors.  Ms. Lynch has been treated unfairly compared to previous Attorneys General nominees by whatever metric one chooses.

Republicans are holding back a top federal prosecutor who has an unparalleled record keeping Americans safe from terrorists.  During her tenure as U.S. Attorney, the Eastern District of New York has prosecuted significant terrorism cases.  This includes the successful prosecution of six individuals for their roles in a 2009 al-Qaeda plot to attack the New York subway system; the convictions of four terrorists plotting to attack John F. Kennedy Airport; and the conviction of a terrorist who attempted to detonate an explosive device at the New York Federal Reserve.

Rudy Giuliani, the former Republican Mayor of New York and a proud law and order conservative, urged the Senate last week to end the delay and to confirm Ms. Lynch.  He said, “This woman is entitled to confirmation: not as a woman, not as a man, but as a highly qualified candidate…  Loretta Lynch is more than qualified.  She’s overqualified to be attorney general.” 

My friend Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI and Federal judge, has written that “[i]n my twenty-five years of public service – 23 in the Department of Justice – I cannot think of a more qualified nominee to be America’s chief law enforcement officer.”  He has further stated that “Ms. Lynch is an atypically non-political appointment for that office, a career professional without any political party ties or activity.”

If we do not confirm Ms. Lynch before the upcoming recess, her nomination will be pending before the full Senate for 46 days by the time we return on April 13.  That is nearly twice as long as all of the past seven Attorneys General combined:  Richard Thornburgh, one day; William Barr, five days; Janet Reno, one day; John Ashcroft, two days, Alberto Gonzales, eight days; Michael Mukasey, two days; and Eric Holder, five days.  This delay is an embarrassment for the United States Senate.

I am concerned that the Senate will have to file a cloture motion and vote to overcome a filibuster of Ms. Lynch’s nomination.  This would be unprecedented and unwarranted.  No Attorney General nomination in our history has ever been met with a filibuster.  We have never needed a cloture vote for an Attorney General nomination.  It appears that Senate Republicans want to make history for all the wrong reasons. It is time to stop playing politics and lead.

   

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