WASHINGTON >> Senators weigh Loretta Lynch’s nomination for attorney general for a second day at a hearing certain to pile criticism on President Barack Obama and Eric Holder, the current occupant of the job.
Thursday’s hearing brings a roster of outside witnesses to the Senate Judiciary Committee, including several invited by Republicans to showcase opposition to Obama’s use of executive powers. It follows a cordial daylong appearance by Lynch that moved her closer to expected confirmation as she pledged independence from President Barack Obama and promised to work with the Republican-led Congress.
Lynch offered support Wednesday 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 fresh departure from Holder, who is deeply unpopular among some Republicans and was derided by one, Texan John Cornyn, as “openly contemptuous” of congressional oversight.
“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.
Facing skeptical but largely cordial Republicans, Lynch dispatched questions on topics including terrorism, drugs and surveillance. Even the occasional confrontational exchange over immigration, an issue some Republican lawmakers seized on as a litmus test, appeared unlikely to derail Lynch’s chances of confirmation.
If approved by the committee and confirmed by the full Senate, 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.
“You’ve acquitted yourself very well,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., after challenging Lynch on national security.
Other Republicans, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and David Vitter of Louisiana, were more openly critical and signaled probable votes against Lynch’s nomination.
“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,” Cruz said. Lynch disagreed with that characterization, saying the American people, and not the president, would be “my client and my first thought.”
Witnesses speaking on Lynch’s behalf on Thursday are to include Janice Fedarcyk, the former head of the FBI’s New York field office, and David Barlow, a former U.S. attorney from Utah who has served with Lynch on a committee of prosecutors that advises Holder on policy matters. Other witnesses include George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has publicly criticized Holder as not being supportive enough of law enforcement.
Though neither Obama nor Holder was present, their actions were a heavy focus of the hearing.
Republicans criticized Holder as too politically close to Obama, and they repeatedly lambasted the administration’s new policy granting work permits and temporary deportation relief to some 4 million people who are in the country illegally. The committee chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley, R- Iowa, called the effort “a dangerous abuse of executive authority.”
Lynch said she had no involvement in drafting the measures but called them “a reasonable way to marshal limited resources to deal with the problem” of illegal immigration. She said the Homeland Security Department is focusing on removals of “the most dangerous of the undocumented immigrants among us.”
Lynch aligned herself with Holder on certain policy decisions, agreeing with his assertions that interrogation by waterboarding is torture and illegal, that civilian courts are an appropriate venue to prosecute suspected terrorists captured overseas and that the department’s limited resources are best reserved for prosecuting violent offenders.
But on other points, she also struck a firmer law-and-order stance.
Lynch, whose office in New York is leading a civil rights investigation into the police chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island last summer, was also careful to express solidarity with law enforcement at a time when racially charged incidents of police force have stirred community concerns of bias.
Witnesses on Thursday are to include Janice Fedarcyk, the former head of the FBI’s New York field office, and David Barlow, a former U.S. Attorney from Utah.