David Vitter believes that Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s attorney-general nominee, might be even more dangerous than Eric Holder, the man she will replace if confirmed. The Louisiana senator met privately with Lynch this week in his capacity as a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He tells NRO that Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, is quieter and more restrained than Holder, which he worries will deflect attention from some of the Justice Department’s more outrageous actions and policies.
Vitter’s warning about Lynch should not be taken lightly. While he previously said that Holder has directly attacked his state more than any other attorney general has, Vitter thinks Lynch may pose an even greater threat. In their extensive one-on-one meeting, Vitter says, Lynch would not answer several of his questions about her position on the president’s executive action on immigration. His Republican colleagues have refrained from raising questions about her nomination, which has puzzled him, given the intense debate the executive action is inspiring in the Capitol.
“I mean, she would say nothing; if I asked her if the sky was blue, I don’t think she would have committed to it in the meeting,” Vitter says. “I found her responses in the conversation about executive amnesty not just frustrating . . . but sort of unbelievable.”
Vitter says that when he asked Lynch directly about her legal assessment of the president’s executive action, she made a vague statement suggesting that Obama was within his legal rights when he exercised prosecutorial discretion to defer or delay the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants. But when Vitter pressed her about the legality of producing new documents and work permits to satisfy the action, which he says has no basis in law, she clammed up.
Conservative watchdogs have also recognized Lynch’s potential to maintain or expand many of the most troubling policies begun under Holder. Peter Flaherty, president of the National Legal and Policy Center, says that while Republicans should be slow to confirm any of President Obama’s nominees so long as he persists with executive action on immigration, Lynch is a particularly ill-chosen candidate. “What’s not realized is that Lynch is kind of Eric Holder’s hand-picked successor,” Flaherty tells NRO. “I expect her to be an activist just like Holder.” Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, agrees and says Lynch’s time as an adviser to Holder has shown that she does not think he has done anything wrong. “I think she will be an Eric Holder mini-me,” von Spakovsky says. “They don’t need another Eric Holder clone running the Justice Department.”
With that in mind, conservatives in the Senate will look to use Lynch’s confirmation hearing as leverage to fight the president’s executive action on immigration. But Vitter says he’s not sure how many Republicans on the Judiciary Committee will support his effort to block Lynch’s nomination. He gets the sense that opposition to the president’s executive action is waning among his Republican colleagues as a result of pressure from the party’s leaders, and he’s none too pleased about it. “I think it’s really stupid, quite frankly, and being particularly gutless when you look at the American people’s position on this,” Vitter says. “It’s an important place to take a stand because this is a key nomination in the middle of this issue.”
Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley is sympathetic to Vitter’s desire to quash the executive action on immigration, but he may not agree with his method. Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine says the senator had a pleasant conversation with Lynch when the two met last month, and he’s reserving judgment until Lynch has the opportunity to come before the committee.
Republicans’ chances of blocking Lynch’s confirmation will depend upon her performance before the Judiciary Committee. “You’ve got to get her to say something absolutely outrageous during the hearings, because most people don’t follow this stuff that closely,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell tells NRO. “You cannot just go in there and go, ‘I can’t stand you, the Obama administration stinks.’” O’Connell says that if Republicans appear to be picking on an African-American woman and using her confirmation hearing to voice their grievances with the Obama administration, then public opinion could quickly turn against them. He adds that he thinks Republicans will ultimately cut a deal with the White House and confirm her. Republicans should use Lynch’s confirmation hearing, he suggests, to fight the executive action, since they probably won’t be able to extract much from the White House in return for approving her nomination.
Vitter, who is running to replace Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal later this year, is champing at the bit to oppose Lynch’s nomination. He says he has proposed blocking the nomination partly as an alternative to fighting over whether to fully fund the Department of Homeland Security, which is largely responsible for the implementation of the president’s executive action. DHS funding is scheduled to run out at the end of February, after a deal cut in December excluded the department from longer-term appropriations that fund the rest of the federal government. Vitter says he still supports legislation to withhold funding for the president’s executive action, but he thinks many of his Republican colleagues are “scared to death” of even talking about defunding any portion of the federal government.
Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, another tireless opponent of the president’s executive action on the Judiciary Committee, is a likely ally in Vitter’s effort to block Lynch’s nomination. “No senator should vote to confirm anyone to this position who does not firmly reject the president’s planned executive amnesty — or any other scheme to circumvent our nation’s immigration laws — and who does not pledge to serve the laws and people of the United States,” Sessions told Breitbart in September. Republican Judiciary Committee members Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have pledged to give Lynch a fair hearing, but have also said she must answer questions about whether or not the president’s executive action was constitutional and legal.
Lynch did not answer requests for comment made to her U.S. Attorney’s office in New York. Grassley’s spokeswoman says the chairman is planning on scheduling the hearing for the end of this month or early February. Lynch’s confirmation will be the first key battleground over executive action for the Republican-led Senate, which rode to victory in November partly on the strength of their opposition to amnesty. Republican senators’ approach to Lynch’s hearing could determine whether they have any chance of slowing the president’s executive action, which makes their relative silence on her nomination all the more deafening.
— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.