President Obama on Friday called on Republicans to schedule a vote on his nominee to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, calling Loretta Lynch’s monthslong wait a case of Senate “dysfunction” gone too far.
At a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Obama also said he planned to make a “strong case” for his ambitious trade deal to skeptics within his own party and he left open the possibility that sanctions on Iran might be lifted at once if a deal over the country’s nuclear program is reached.
The president saved his most impassioned remarks for his attorney general nominee, Lynch, who he said had waited more than twice as long as the previous seven attorney general nominees combined to get a vote in the Senate.
“There’s no reason for it,” Obama said, noting that few have argued that Lynch is not qualified for the job. “Nobody can describe a reason for it beyond political gamesmanship in the Senate on an issue that’s completely unrelated to her.”
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he won’t give Lynch a confirmation vote until an anti-trafficking bill passes. But the bill to aid human trafficking victims is tied up in abortion politics, with Democrats objecting to an anti-abortion provision in the measure.
McConnell’s office noted, however, that he’d said Thursday night that senators were making progress on the trafficking bill and that he hoped it would be passed early next week. A vote on Lynch’s nomination would follow.
“I guess they don’t have C-SPAN down there at the White House,” McConnell’s deputy chief of staff, Don Stewart, suggested in an e-mail.
Obama criticized the 160-plus-day wait, calling it a “crazy” situation: “Enough. Enough,” he said. “Call Loretta Lynch for a vote. Get her confirmed. Put her in place. Let her do her job. This is embarrassing, a process like this.”
Lynch is nearing six months in a state of suspended Senate animation, her nomination moving neither forward nor backward but instead becoming a bargaining chip in an unrelated battle, a calculation that carries no small irony given that no Republicans have challenged her credentials, and almost all of them had expressed their enmity for the man she would replace, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
The inert situation shows just how Republican anger and resentment over the president’s immigration actions color issues ranging from Lynch’s status to trade negotiations to the nuclear talks with Iran. Republicans’ central rationale remains that they cannot trust the president.
After months of simmering over the very slow walk of Lynch’s nomination by the new Republican majority, Democrats unloaded this week.
The White House spokesman accused a leading Republican senator of duplicity over the treatment of Lynch. Democrats threatened procedural tactics that would force Republicans to block a vote on bringing up her nomination, stirring additional political repercussions.
Details on Iran
Obama said the details of the Iran deal would be hammered out by Secretary of State John Kerry and negotiators, but he noted that “there are a lot of different mechanism and ways” to lessen the sanctions.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that the deal would be signed in late June only if economic sanctions were lifted at once, though the U.S. has insisted they’d be lifted in phases.
But Obama said Friday that the negotiators’ job would be “to sometimes find formulas that get to our main concerns while allowing the other side to make a presentation to their body politic that is more acceptable.”
More important than the timing, the president said, would be ensuring that economic sanctions against Tehran could be snapped back into place if Iran doesn’t live up to the deal.
“Our main concern here is making sure that if Iran doesn’t abide by its agreement, that we don’t have to jump through a whole bunch of hoops in order to reinstate sanctions,” Obama said.
On trade, the president hailed bipartisan legislation that would give him special trade-promotion authority to help secure a trade package to sell more U.S. goods throughout the Pacific Rim.
He acknowledged that the politics of trade have “always been tough, particularly in the Democratic Party,” because of outsourcing and job losses associated with past deals.
But he said the new package took lessons from past mistakes and included “strong, enforceable” labor and environmental provisions.
And he said the agreement would strengthen the United States’ ability to force open other markets.
Contributing: New York Times