Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch spent the first day of her confirmation hearings being quizzed by Republican senators on everything from President Obama’s immigration reforms to the NSA to police and race. But perhaps the only question that she really needed to ace was the one offered by Sen. John Cornyn. “Let me just stipulate, you’re not Eric Holder, are you?” asked the Texas Republican. “No, I’m not, sir,” Lynch responded with a smile.
Lynch’s confirmation proceedings are the first for an Obama nominee since Republicans took control of the Senate this year. To date, however, the GOP has largely held its fire when it comes to Lynch—a decision that has less do with her and more to do with the man she would replace atop the Justice Department. Congressional Republicans and Holder have repeatedly clashed during his six years in office. The GOP-controlled House went as far as to vote to hold him in contempt in 2012 over the DOJ’s refusal to turn over documents related to the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation. Holder responded by treating some GOP lawmakers with what sounded an awful lot like contempt in return.
Because Holder has made it clear that he’ll stay put until his successor is in place, Republicans appear willing to bet that the devil they know is worse than the one they don’t. Lynch entered the hearing on track for a relatively smooth confirmation process, and nothing that happened Wednesday appeared to change that. She’ll need the support of at least three GOP members of the Judiciary Committee for her nomination to reach the Senate floor. The most likely candidates are believed to be Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Orrin Hatch (Utah), and Jeff Flake (Arizona), although it wouldn’t be a shock if she ultimately ended up with a few GOP votes to spare.
Lynch, who would become the first black woman to be attorney general, repeatedly avoided criticizing the president or the man she would replace—most notably when it came to Obama’s executive actions on immigration. She did, however, stress to the committee that her confirmation would represent a fresh start between the DOJ and Congress. “I look forward to fostering a new and improved relationship with this committee, the United States Senate, and the entire United States Congress, a relationship based on mutual respect and constitutional balance,” she said.
Meanwhile, Republicans on the panel were largely willing to give Lynch a pass to instead focus their anger just where it has been for the past six years: at Obama and Holder. Chairman Chuck Grassley (Iowa) set the tone early when he said the DOJ had become “deeply politicized” because “the attorney general of the United States views himself, in his own words, as the president’s ‘wingman.’ ”
Republicans peppered Lynch throughout the day with questions about how she would behave differently than Holder if she were made the nation’s top prosecutor. “If confirmed as attorney general, I will be myself,” she said. “I will be Loretta Lynch.” At least for now, that appears to be enough for the GOP.