Originally posted at The New York Times.
Loretta E. Lynch, the nominee to become attorney general, on Wednesday defended the legality of President Obama’s immigration policy during a daylong confirmation hearing Republicans used to seek assurances she would break from some of the practices of Eric H. Holder Jr., the man who now holds the post.
Her view on immigration was crucial. Some Republicans have said it could determine their vote because of their deep opposition to the president’s decision last year to unilaterally ease the threat of deportation for millions of unauthorized immigrants.
Mr. Holder approved the legal justification for that action in just one instance where he infuriated Republicans.
The importance of the issue was underscored when Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the new Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made it the very first question posed to Ms. Lynch.
Ms. Lynch said she had read the Justice Department’s legal opinions and added, “I don’t see any reason to doubt the reasonableness of those views.” Pressed again later in the hearing, she would not say whether she would have reached the same conclusion under her own analysis.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, told lawmakers that “the president’s immigration policies are not seeking confirmation today.” He added that “if we can’t confirm Loretta Lynch, then I don’t believe we can confirm anyone.”
If confirmed, Ms. Lynch would be the nation’s first African-American woman to serve as attorney general. In her opening statement, she discussed her rise from being the daughter of a fourth-generation Baptist preacher in North Carolina and his schoolteacher wife, parents who instilled in her a desire to work in public service.
“I believe in the promise of America because I have lived the promise of America,” Ms. Lynch said at the hearing, which is the first test of how the Senate’s new Republican majority will treat Mr. Obama’s high-level nominees.
Her allies have sought to differentiate her from Mr. Holder, an outspoken liberal voice in the administration who clashed frequently with Republicans who accused him of politicizing the office.
Republican dissatisfaction with Mr. Holder was a dominant theme of the hearing. Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, went so far as to ask: “You’re not Eric Holder, are you?”
“No, senator, I am not,” she replied to laughter in the hearing room in the Senate Hart Office Building packed with her supporters, including many women dressed in red to show they belonged to her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta.
Asked repeatedly how she would differ from the man she hopes to succeed, she said: “If confirmed as attorney general, I will be myself. I will be Loretta Lynch.”
Ms. Lynch remained poised and unflappable throughout. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who sits on the panel, said she had delivered “a flawless performance.”
In her opening statement, Ms. Lynch, the United States attorney in Brooklyn, said, “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.”
Besides Mr. Grassley, Republican committee members include Senators Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and David Vitter of Louisiana, all of whom have expressed outrage over the president’s actions on immigration and his exercise of executive power in general. Mr. Vitter has already said he will oppose Ms. Lynch’s nomination, and Mr. Sessions has said he has strong reservations.
“I did express at one point serious concerns about anyone who would support the president’s executive amnesty,” Mr. Sessions said. “That is a big concern for me.”
Ms. Lynch needs at least three Republican members of the panel to vote for her to send her nomination to the floor. Democrats see Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona as those most likely to support her, but they said she could win over other Republicans as well.
Mr. Flake said he had made no decision on Ms. Lynch but had come away with a favorable impression and expected that she would be confirmed. Mr. Graham said he, too, had found her well qualified.
“On paper she is a good choice and I like her personally, but she is going to have some hard questions,” Mr. Graham said.
In advance of the hearing, law enforcement veterans used a conference call with reporters on Tuesday to differentiate Ms. Lynch from Mr. Holder and his political fights on Capitol Hill.
“Attorney General Holder has been a lightning rod for some of those conversations and debates,” Jamie S. Gorelick, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, said. “At this stage in the department’s life, it would be really wonderful for it to get back to the business of justice and not be distracted by political fights and the debates of the day as much as it has been.”
William J. Bratton, the New York City police commissioner, said Ms. Lynch was a strong candidate to take over the Justice Department at a time of great tension between minority communities and law enforcement. After the deadly police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., last summer, Mr. Holder upset some law enforcement groups with comments that they saw as unsupportive.
Though Mr. Bratton did not mention Mr. Holder directly, he praised Ms. Lynch for not “coming into this with any preconceived notions.”
“It’s going to be critical that the person in this position be able to see both the police position on some of these issues, as well as the community position,” he said.
Ms. Lynch, 55, whose father was active in the civil rights movement, has spent nearly all of her career as a prosecutor. She was accompanied at the hearing by her father, Lorenzo Lynch; her husband, Stephen Hargrove, and other family members.
She will also try to underscore her record of prosecuting terror suspects — her office has handled the most in the country since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to one official. That is likely to lead to questioning from Mr. Graham and Mr. Sessions, both of whom have been critical of the use of the civilian legal system to prosecute terrorism suspects.
Cybersecurity has been an early and special interest of Ms. Lynch, who established a unit dedicated to the crime in New York. Officials say she intends to make that an “enhanced priority” of the Justice Department if she becomes attorney general.
Ms. Lynch, nominated in early November, has had to wait for a hearing as Republicans organized themselves as the Senate majority after eight years out of power. Even if she does not encounter trouble at the committee level, it will probably be weeks before she can be confirmed, perhaps as late as March, given the calendar and that Republicans are not hurrying.
That some Republicans will need to support her if she is to advance also changes the dynamic for lawmakers who in recent years could sit back and let Democrats move the president’s nominees. But Republicans also argue that a change is merited at the Justice Department.
“We need an attorney general,” Mr. Graham said. “If not her, who?”
Read more at The New York Times.
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