After a long delay that has infuriated her supporters, a bipartisan group of senators is narrowing in on an agreement that would soon lead to a vote on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch’s confirmation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday bipartisan negotiations on an unrelated bill that has tied up the chamber “continue to make progress” and he hopes to pass the bill “early next week.”
McConnell has insisted that the measure — an anti-human trafficking measure that includes a controversial abortion provision — must pass before the Senate would move to Lynch’s nomination.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid echoed McConnell’s optimism.
“Ms. Lynch’s nomination will not remain in purgatory forever,” Reid said.
But senators wrapped up their work for the week on Thursday, leaving Lynch and their other business behind.
Lynch’s nomination is taking on historic proportions — and not just because she’d be the first African-American woman to lead the Justice Department. No other nominee for attorney general has had to wait this long for Senate confirmation — more than four months — since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. The delay has given Democrats an opening to blast Republicans for their management of the Senate just months after assuming the majority.
Even likely 2016 GOP presidential nominee Jeb Bush weighed in on the stalled nomination, during an event in New Hampshire on Thursday night.
“It doesn’t appear like she has a record that would be one as punitive, I think presidents have a right to pick their team in general,” he said, when asked about the situation. “If someone is supportive of the president’s policies, whether you agree with them or not, there should be some deference to the executive. This should not always be partisan.”
Early on, the anti-human trafficking bill looked poised to mark a clear bipartisan accomplishment for the McConnell-led Senate. But then Democrats discovered Republicans had added an anti-abortion provision they oppose.
Several procedural votes to end debate on the measure have failed and a new vote that had been scheduled for Thursday morning was first postponed and then canceled altogether as members from both parties tried to find a way forward.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is working behind the scenes to tweak the abortion language in the bill to win enough Democratic support to overcome a filibuster and pave the way for a vote on Lynch, a senior Republican aide told CNN.
Cornyn said on the Senate floor Thursday he is “more optimistic” than he has been in a long time and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan echoed that view.
“We are involved right now in active negotiations,” Stabenow told reporters. “We have presented a wide variety of alternatives. At the moment it looks like there is a serious possibility of coming to agreement. We don’t know yet, but there are active discussions going on which is why I’m assuming the vote was delayed.”
At issue is Republicans’ insistence that the anti-abortion provision banning the use of public funds for abortions remain in the bill, even though it would apply to victims’ compensation fund that does not include taxpayer dollars.
Republicans argue the money collected from human trafficking perpetrators for the fund is considered government money and should not be allowed to be used for abortions, a position that has angered Democrats like Reid, who believe the move to expand restrictions on abortions sets a bad precedent.
A Democrat involved in the talks told CNN the compromise has to do with making the money flow in a way that makes Democrats feel comfortable that they are not setting a new precedent. To do that, negotiators are discussing taking the money the government seizes from perpetrators of human trafficking and making it flow into a general appropriations fund already subject to so-called Hyde restrictions, which means no government money can be used for abortions except in the case of rape or incest.
The impasse over the unrelated bill has upset Lynch’s supporters who have held a series of events urging McConnell to schedule a vote, from press conferences and conference calls to praying outside the Kentucky senator’s leadership office in the U.S. Capitol. Some supporters are even embarking on a one-day-a-week fast until she is confirmed.
Lynch, who was nominated in November, has enough Republican support to win confirmation and the Senate has been able to confirm nominees for other posts during the period she has been waiting.
The pressure to schedule a vote is mounting, with Valerie Jarrett, a top adviser to President Barack Obama, tweeting Thursday: “Loretta Lynch has waited 2x as long on the Senate floor for a vote than the 7 most recent AGs combined.”
Jarrett linked to a Washington Post editorial, also being circulated by Senate Democrats, slamming what it called the “unconscionably shabby treatment the Senate has shown to Loretta Lynch.”
“There’s no principled reason to link Ms. Lynch’s nomination to the passage of the trafficking bill,” wrote the paper’s editorial board.
“The confirmation battles of the past several years have harmed the country,” the editorial continued. “Some who should have been confirmed have instead become political victims and turned away from government service.”
But no everyone was convinced. Over in the House, Rep. Kevin Brady, a member of the Republican Study Committee, defended the delay on Lynch and said he was confident that, “at the end of the day, they will have a vote on her.”
“I certainly think they ought to have a right to actually examine her positions, her views. You know, the attorney general’s office — which used to be an independent office that actually enforced the law — no longer is that,” he told CNN on Friday, “so I actually think there’s reasonable questions on both sides of the aisle about how the new attorney general will handle [issues].”
Brady said that it was “right to have some deliberations” because Lynch, if confirmed, would be taking over “a very troubled agency that a lot of Americans now don’t believe stands up for them.”
CNN’s Teddy Schleifer and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.