The nomination of Loretta Lynch as U.S. attorney general cleared a major hurdle Thursday and now moves to the full Senate, where the two senators from her native state plan to fight it.
Lynch’s nomination won approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee despite the opposition of eight Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis.
Both Tillis and North Carolina’s other senator, Republican Richard Burr, say they’ll oppose her nomination when the full Senate votes as early as next week.
Lynch, who was born in Greensboro and grew up in Durham, would be the first female African-American attorney general in U.S. history. She’s now U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
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Before the vote, Tillis called Lynch someone with “a remarkable track record.” He described his vote as the “most difficult decision I’ve had to make in my 45 days on this job.”
But in a statement, Tillis said, “It appears that she would represent little, if any, tangible policy or management difference from Attorney General Eric Holder.
“I cannot vote to confirm a nominee who will not make a firm and explicit commitment to reverse the partisan politicization that presently exists at the Department of Justice,” Tillis added.
Burr cited Lynch’s support for federal lawsuits like the one challenging North Carolina’s sweeping 2013 voter law.
“She is not the right choice for attorney general,” he said.
But U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, crossed party lines to support Lynch on Thursday. He was one of three Republicans to join nine Democrats in voting for the nomination.
“She’s well-qualified. I think she’s a decent person,” Graham said. “All things being equal, I think the Democratic president is well within bounds in choosing her. Nobody on our side would have chosen her, but when you win the White House, certain things come your way.”
Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, a former chairman of the committee, and Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake joined Graham and all of the committee’s Democrats in voting for Lynch.
In the full Senate, Lynch will need the support of all 44 Democrats, two independents who caucus with the Democrats, plus at least five Republicans to win confirmation.
For the closest possible margin, she would require four Republicans plus Vice President Joe Biden to cast the tie-breaking vote.
Republican opposition to Lynch appeared to stem not from reservations about her qualifications as much as opposition to President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration as well as to Holder.
Those tensions were on display during Lynch’s confirmation hearing in January, where witnesses spent far more time bashing Holder than discussing Lynch.
In what Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee’s senior Democrat, called an “unprecedented” obstacle course, Lynch was also pressed to answer nearly 900 questions in addition to her all-day personal appearance before the committee.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, for instance, asked Lynch multiple, detailed questions about Obama’s executive action deferring removal of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States when they were children.
Ongoing N.C. ties
Lynch still has strong ties to North Carolina.
Her father, who lives in Durham, was a pastor in Greensboro during the lunch-counter sit-ins and civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s. Her brother, Leonzo, is pastor of Charlotte’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Civil rights groups strongly support Lynch’s nomination.
“The American people deserve a chief law enforcement officer of the federal government who follows the principles of fundamental fairness and equal justice under the law,” Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, said in a statement. “Loretta Lynch will do just that as our attorney general.”
Senate Historian Donald Ritchie said it was not unprecedented for a senator to oppose a nominee from the same state, but of a different party. But the Senate has rejected fewer than 5 percent of Cabinet nominees.
“For the most part, the Senate has been willing to let presidents have people in top levels who agree with them, even if the senators don’t necessarily agree with them,” he said.
On Thursday, Rep. Alma Adams, a Democrat from Greensboro, criticized Tillis’ committee vote.
“He himself acknowledged Lynch’s strong qualifications and experience, adding: ‘She was raised right.’ Some Senate Republicans have treated this Greensboro native horribly,” she said. “She is well-qualified and very capable of serving as the next U.S. attorney general.”
Renee Schoof of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau and Mary Cornatzer of The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.