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April 24, 2015

Lynch Confirmation Isn’t the End of the Holder Era

She won’t make things better, but it’s hard to see it getting worse.

After announcing he was stepping down last September pending his replacement, it’s a sure bet that Eric Holder didn’t figure he’d still be at work when the cherry blossoms returned to our nation’s capital. But when the Democrats who controlled the Senate at the time decided to concentrate on other priorities, the Loretta Lynch confirmation languished until the new GOP majority took control in January.

But while Republicans rightfully expressed their concerns on Lynch’s amnesty stance during Senate hearings — she noted, “I believe that the right and the obligation to work is one that’s shared by everyone in this country regardless of how they came here” — there were still more than enough to vote with all 46 Democrats for her confirmation. Unsurprisingly, most of the 10 Republicans came from the moderate wing of the Senate GOP: Kelly Ayotte, Thad Cochran, Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch, Ron Johnson, Mark Kirk, Rob Portman and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Johnson, Kirk and Portman are up for election in 2016, and Lindsey Graham is strongly considering a presidential bid. (Fellow presidential hopefuls Rand Paul and Marco Rubio voted against confirmation while Ted Cruz was the lone non-voter in the 56-43 tally.)

So that’s the bad news. But one good thing came out of the long process: Mitch McConnell used the prospect of blocking the confirmation vote to extract a vote on a human trafficking bill Democrats were holding up over abortion-funding language. As The Wall Street Journal editorial staff put it, “The episode illustrates that the Senate’s advice and consent power offers political leverage that government shutdowns and impeachment do not.” Unfortunately, McConnell didn’t use this leverage to extract concessions on executive amnesty or entitlement reform, but small victories are still victories.

Time will tell whether Lynch will be the obstructionist Eric Holder was. But while Democrats are making hay over Lynch being the first black female attorney general, the overriding question is whether the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York can make the transition to a much larger stage while upholding Rule of Law. It’s not likely things will get much better at the Justice Department over the next two years, but Lynch would at least be hard pressed to make things worse.

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