President Barack Obama officially nominated New York prosecutor Loretta Lynch to become U.S. Attorney General on Saturday. Lynch has a largely apolitical background, having spent most of her career building an outstanding record as a career prosecutor.
But two Republican senators are already warning that they could nonetheless block her nomination over immigration reform. In a statement issued Saturday, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) said they expect to know Lynch’s views on the legality of Obama’s plan to take executive action on immigration.
The move not only puts Lynch in the unwinnable spot of commenting on the executive action of the president who nominated her; it is also the latest attempt to thwart Obama’s planned executive action.
Obama said both before and after the election that he would use the powers of his office to do what he can to fix the broken immigration system now that Congress has failed to pass a reform bill. Many congressional Republicans have on the one hand blasted action by Obama’s office that could defer deportation for some undocumented immigrants as “amnesty” and “unconstitutional,” while at the same time failing to move any of their own comprehensive immigration reforms through Congress, hiding behind an ever-growing list of excuses.
Just this week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that even after the Republicans gain a majority in both houses next year, they may not pass immigration reform because an uptick in unaccompanied children crossing the border this summer killed Republican support for reform. He nonetheless warned that, if “the President if he continues down this path to taking action his year, is inviting big trouble.”
Cruz and Lee are now suggesting they could inject their objections to Obama’s executive action even into the attorney general confirmation process.
“The Attorney General is the President’s chief law enforcement officer. As such, the nominee must demonstrate full and complete commitment to the law,” they said. “Loretta Lynch deserves the opportunity to demonstrate those qualities, beginning with a statement whether or not she believes the President’s executive amnesty plans are constitutional and legal.”
Cruz and Lee are likely issuing this warning as political capital to leverage Democrats over other issues. But if Congress were to take up Lynch’s nomination this year, before the new Republican-majority Senate takes office, there is little that the likes of Cruz and Lee could do to stop it on the Senate floor. Now that the Senate passed filibuster reform, all it takes is a simple majority vote to confirm Obama’s nominees.
Next year is a different story. Many Republican senators have asked Democrats to wait until the newly elected Congress takes office to vote on Lynch, and they may feel pressure to do so. But in addition to facing a Republican majority Senate, they shouldn’t expect an easy road for any nominee starting in 2015 from the committee that vets candidates.
This weekend, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced that he has chosen to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee rather than move to other powerful committees that control the budget and finances, because he wants to retain more power over Obama’s nominees to the federal courts. Dogged Republican obstruction that left many crucial federal court seats empty for months or years was among the primary reasons senators resorted to reforming the filibuster last year. But Grassley’s statements may signal a plan to revive the blockade on even the most noncontroversial nominees once Republicans hold the Senate majority. “The Judiciary Committee should not be a rubber stamp for the president,” he told the Des Moines Register.