WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The nomination of Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama’s choice to be U.S. attorney general, suffered another potential delay on Tuesday when the Senate failed to end a standoff over abortion and human trafficking legislation.
Democrats who oppose an abortion provision attached to the trafficking bill successfully blocked moves to limit debate, meaning it could drag on and crowd Lynch out of this week’s Senate calendar.
The White House urged the Senate to act. “We believe Loretta Lynch should be confirmed in bipartisan fashion. She has already waited for far too long,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Tuesday.
McConnell fell five votes short of the 60 needed to advance the bill that aims to impose tougher penalties on those involved in human trafficking.
If and when the way is cleared for full Senate debate of Lynch to become the country’s top law enforcement official, replacing Attorney General Eric Holder, she faces a tight vote.
Congressional vote counters on Tuesday were speculating on the possibility of a 50-50 Senate tie, which would result in her confirmation as attorney general, assuming Democratic Vice President Joe Biden broke the deadlock by voting for her.
But it also assumes that the four Senate Republicans, out of 54, who support Lynch to replace retiring Attorney General Eric Holder continue to do so and help deliver a victory for Obama.
Before any nail-biting roll call vote can occur, however, McConnell must bring Lynch’s nomination up for debate in the Senate. It was unclear whether that would happen before a two-week recess set to begin on March 27.
“Democrats filibustering help for terrified children and abused women would represent a new low here in the Senate,” McConnell said, referring to Democratic moves to hold up the human trafficking bill because of the abortion language.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid countered: “Republicans have chosen to manufacture a political fight (over abortion) that has nothing to do with human trafficking.”
Lynch, 55, an accomplished career prosecutor, has been unanimously confirmed by the Senate twice before to serve as U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, most recently in 2010. But since being chosen by Obama in November for the top Justice Department job, Lynch’s nomination has suffered delay after delay.
Congressional Republicans have tangled with Holder, attorney general since 2009, throughout most of his tenure.
Now many Senate Republicans are opposing Lynch because of her support for Obama’s November executive action easing the threat of deportation for 4.7 million undocumented residents. Two Republicans lawmakers who had been considered potential Lynch supporters announced on Tuesday that they plan to vote no.
Writing by Richard Cowan; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, G Crosse and Jonathan Oatis