Loretta Lynch Supporters Stage Hunger Strike to Urge Confirmation But a key Republican said it could be weeks more before a nomination vote
By Seung Min Kim and Burgess Everett
Loretta Lynch’s allies are launching a hunger strike until she’s confirmed as attorney general, but they could be waiting weeks if Republicans follow through on their threat to delay Lynch even longer.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) warned Wednesday that the Senate could bypass a sex trafficking bill that’s been entwined with Lynch’s nomination in order to deal with Iran review legislation that unanimously cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.
In other words, Lynch, who was nominated five months ago, may have to hold out weeks longer.
“Iran is a special case, so I’m not suggesting we hold up Iran for this,” Cornyn told reporters. “But I am suggesting we come back to it after Iran, particularly if [Democrats] want to release Eric Holder so they can let him make a lot of money in the private sector.”
The advocacy group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, along with female civil-rights leaders, are planning the hunger strike, in which groups of fasters will alternate days abstaining from food until Lynch is confirmed to replace Eric Holder at the Justice Department. Dubbed “Confirm Loretta Lynch Fast,” the new tactic is designed in the mold of actions by civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Cesar Chavez, organizers said.
“As long as the Senate refuses to take 15 minutes to confirm someone for attorney general that they have already confirmed twice for U.S. attorney,” National Action Network and its allies “will do everything in our power to draw attention to this completely unfair and unnecessary delay to vote to confirm Loretta Lynch,” Sharpton, who founded NAN, said in a statement last week.
The group’s executive director, Janaye Ingram, added: “We stand with Loretta Lynch and are so in support of this cause that we are willing to sacrifice our daily meals to impress upon the U.S. Senate that it’s time to call a vote.”
The hunger strike is part of a broader campaign to publicly pressure Republican leaders to quickly hold a confirmation vote for Lynch, who has been stuck in a nomination purgatory ever since she cleared the Judiciary Committee in late February. Lynch, the current U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, would be the first Black woman to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement official.
Activists also plan to blitz Senate offices urging support for Lynch, write letters to the editor and op-eds, and launch a social media drive trying to bring attention to the effort.
Lynch has public support from five Senate Republicans: Orrin Hatch of Utah, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois. With support from all Senate Democrats, that would give Lynch 51 votes, enough to be confirmed.
But her nomination is tangled up in an unrelated Senate fight over a human-trafficking bill that has been bogged down by a partisan dispute over its abortion provisions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reiterated earlier this week that the chamber would not move on to Lynch until it resolves the dispute over that bill.
The partisan spat over the trafficking legislation took an even sharper rhetorical turn earlier Wednesday when the Senate’s two top leaders fought over the impasse in dueling speeches.
McConnell accused Democrats of choosing to aid doctors who serve Medicare patients, while shunning sex trafficking victims. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shot back that his counterpart’s complaints were “illogical” and devoid of facts.
The sweeping Medicare payments package that the Senate passed overwhelmingly Tuesday night contains so-called Hyde Amendment language that would bar community health centers from using federal money to fund abortions. The abortion provision in the trafficking bill is similar, but instead of applying those restrictions to taxpayer funds, it would be for fines paid from trafficking offenders — which Democrats say goes too far.
“Democrats couldn’t possibly justify voting for Hyde language in order to help doctors, as they did hours ago, but then look an abused victim in the eye and tell her she’s not worth it,” McConnell said. “All that’s needed now are a couple more Democrats willing to show the same level of compassion to enslaved victims they offered to doctors just a few hours ago.”
Cornyn has offered an amendment that he says should assuage Democrats’ concerns. It would essentially rewrite language in the trafficking bill to mirror the abortion language in the Medicare measure. It would make the restitution fund in the trafficking bill — the source of the abortion dispute — be filled by appropriations, and the fines from traffickers would instead go directly to the Treasury.
But Democrats promptly rejected the offer. Reid called McConnell’s argument as “illogical as can be” because it’s standard for Hyde Amendment restrictions to apply to federal spending bills, whereas Cornyn’s compromise would still expand those curbs on abortion.
“We are not going to stand by to enlarge this so-called Hyde Amendment to private money,” Reid fumed. He added that McConnell and Cornyn “feel that this is their opportunity to broaden Hyde, and we’re not going to allow that to happen. It would be wrong.”
The heated rhetoric was also a quick departure from the bipartisan bonanza of just the day before, when senators successfully brokered the congressional oversight bill on Iran then, hours later, overwhelmingly passed the major Medicare bill assembled by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
The trafficking impasse began when Democrats unanimously helped the GOP carry the bill to the floor and then noticed the abortion language, leading to a saga with more twists and turns than on any bill that the full Senate has considered this year.
Reid said Democrats have offered McConnell 10 amendments privately, while McConnell and Cornyn have now tried three times to get Democrats to approve the trafficking bill. But just four Democrats voted for those GOP offers, two short of the number needed to break a filibuster. Reid said the GOP is “unwilling to compromise,” while McConnell said it’s time for “senators of conscience to stand up and end this filibuster now.”
A vote on Cornyn’s latest offer is expected on Thursday. But it will fail, according to senior Democratic aides, leaving Lynch’s nomination on ice for at least a little while longer.
Still, that gives more time for undecided Republicans to make up their mind. Key swing GOP votes include Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Ayotte stressed again Wednesday that she hadn’t made up her mind.
This article was reprinted with permission of the Black Press USA.