Politics

Attorney General Nominee Moves Closer to Confirmation

Challenged by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch defends President Barack Obama's decision to shelter millions of immigrants from deportation though they live in the country illegally but she said they have no right to citizenship under the law, as she testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 during her confirmation hearing before the committee. Lynch made her remarks in the opening moments of a hearing into her appointment as the nation's first black female attorney general. It is the first confirmation proceeding since Republicans took control of the Senate this month.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Challenged by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch defends President Barack Obama’s decision to shelter millions of immigrants from deportation though they live in the country illegally but she said they have no right to citizenship under the law, as she testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 during her confirmation hearing before the committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press
ERICA WERNER, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans demanded wholesale change at the Justice Department Thursday as they questioned whether President Barack Obama’s attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch, would provide it.

“The question for me and a lot of members on this side is whether Ms. Lynch is committed to leading the Department of Justice in a new direction,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said as he gaveled open the second day of hearings into her nomination.

“She’s clearly a skilled and competent lawyer,” Grassley said, while complaining that Lynch’s answers during day-long testimony Wednesday were “indirect.” Grassley said he would be following up with more questions in writing.

Still, there was little doubt about the ultimate outcome. Lynch needs support from at least three Republicans on the committee to advance to the full Senate, and she is expected to win those votes and achieve eventual confirmation.

One senior committee Republican, Orrin Hatch of Utah, issued a statement Thursday saying that Lynch “appears to be well qualified, and I appreciated the commitments she made yesterday to enforce the rule of law, act independently of the White House, defend the constitutionality of statutes and work with us on important legislation.” Hatch said he would make his final decision when the committee votes in coming weeks.

And when top committee Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked the nine outside witnesses testifying Thursday for a show of hands if they were opposed to Lynch’s nomination, not one hand went up.

Lynch did not appear at the second and final day of her confirmation hearing, which was designed instead to feature testimony from outside experts, several summoned by Republicans to amplify their criticism of Obama and his current attorney general, Eric Holder. Republicans deride Holder as a liberal firebrand and Obama cheerleader who has failed to cooperate with Congress.

Witnesses included attorney Jonathan Turley, who has charged the Obama administration engages in executive overreach, and Catherine Engelbrecht, who says she was targeted by the Internal Revenue Service for leading a conservative group. Engelbrecht described the Justice Department as “an increasingly rogue agency.”

Democrats took issue with the GOP focus on Obama and Holder.

“Barack Obama is not the nominee. That may come as a surprise to some who heard the questions. Eric Holder is not the nominee,” Leahy said Thursday.

In her appearance Wednesday, Lynch pledged independence from Obama and promised to work with the Republican-led Congress. She offered support for some controversial Obama administration policies, including the president’s unilateral protections for millions of immigrants in the country illegally.

But she also suggested she would provide a departure from Holder.

“If confirmed as attorney general, I would be myself. I would be Loretta Lynch,” she said, when asked how senators could be assured that she would lead differently.

If approved, Lynch — the top federal prosecutor since 2010 for parts of New York City and Long Island — would become the nation’s first black female attorney general.

Several of the more conservative committee members were frustrated as they tried to draw her into criticism of Obama or Holder.

“Try as I might, there has been nothing I have been able to ask you that has yielded any answer suggesting any limitations whatsoever on the authority of the president,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Lynch disagreed with that characterization, saying the American people, and not the president, would be “my client and my first thought.”

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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