Republicans Use Abortion Fight To Jam Loretta Lynch Confirmation

04/16/2015 08:01 am ET | Updated Apr 16, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Loretta Lynch has been waiting more than five months for the Senate to vote to confirm her as U.S. attorney general.

She'll have to keep waiting.

Republican leaders have tied a vote on Lynch to the passage of an unrelated bill targeting sex trafficking. That bill, which normally would be bipartisan, has stalled for weeks because Republicans tucked an anti-abortion provision into it that Democrats won't support. As long as the bill doesn't move, neither does Lynch.

"The Senate should pass this bipartisan bill right away," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said Tuesday. "And as soon as that happens, we’ll turn to the Loretta Lynch nomination."

But it's not that simple, and there's no end in sight to the abortion fight. The Senate is voting Thursday to take up an amendment that Republicans say is a way forward on the impasse, but Democrats call it a gimmick and vow to oppose it.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the bill's author, will offer to tweak the bill's language relating to the Hyde Amendment, the federal provision that bans the use of public funds for abortions except in cases of rape or incest. But the tweak doesn't address Democrats' core concern that the bill, for the first time, would expand the Hyde Amendment to apply to non-taxpayer funds. The bill would allow fees collected from human traffickers to be funneled into a new public fund for victims, to which the Hyde Amendment would be applied.

Democrats say any expansion of the Hyde Amendment is a non-starter for them.

"Senate Republicans are trying to restrict the health choices of women and girls who have been sold into sex slavery," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). "The latest proposal from Senator Cornyn does nothing to change that fact. He is still attaching Hyde to non-taxpayer, offender dollars."

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said Democrats are just looking for reasons to withhold support from the bill. He said Cornyn's amendment includes the same Hyde language that was in a Medicare bill that easily passed the Senate on Tuesday. That bill, though, didn't expand the Hyde Amendment to non-taxpayer dollars.

"They're hilarious," Stewart said of Democrats. "Every time they have an excuse, we give them a solution. Then they just come up with a new excuse. This is the same language they voted on unanimously last night."

Meanwhile, Lynch's allies are getting restless. Women's rights and civil rights groups regularly slam Republicans for holding up her nomination. On Wednesday, a group of black women showed up at the Capitol and confronted Stewart about the delays. If confirmed, Lynch will be the first African-American female U.S. attorney general.

An easy way forward would be for the Senate to pass a trafficking bill similar to the one that passed the House with broad support, without the Hyde language in it. Democrats have noted that Cornyn didn't include Hyde language in the trafficking bill he introduced in the last Congress.

But Republicans haven't shown much willingness to go that route. Cornyn even suggested Wednesday that the Senate move on to another bill, on Iran, before finishing the trafficking bill.

"I am suggesting we come back to it after Iran, particularly if [Democrats] want to release [current Attorney General] Eric Holder so they can let him make a lot of money in the private sector," Cornyn said, according to Politico.

As of Thursday, Lynch has waited 158 days for a vote. Janet Reno waited 29 days to be confirmed as President Bill Clinton's attorney general, and John Ashcroft waited 42 days to be confirmed as President George W. Bush's attorney general.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of a handful of GOPers publicly supporting Lynch, said he's hopeful that recent bipartisanship on bills relating to Iran and Medicare is a sign of momentum for the trafficking bill and Lynch. He conceded it's slow-going, though.

"The light at the end of the tunnel is pretty dim, and you never know if it's a train," said Graham. "But we don't want to leave this thing undone."

UPDATE: 11:20 a.m. -- Republicans withdrew their scheduled vote on Cornyn's amendment late Thursday morning. A Senate Democratic source tells HuffPost that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are in talks with Cornyn on a way forward on the bill.

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