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GOP Must End its 'War of Choice' on Obama's Attorneys General

03/20/2015 01:04 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2015
Ramin Talaie via Getty Images

In their ongoing struggle to prove -- to the nation and, one assumes, to themselves -- that the GOP can actually govern, Congressional Republicans have thus far succeeded only in demonstrating that they continue to be their own worst enemies.

Particularly on the Senate side of the Capitol, as the increasingly protracted battle to confirm U.S. attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch moves into its fifth straight month, it appears they may already have met their match.

In the short term, delaying a vote on Lynch surely scratches a partisan itch, satisfying the deep-seated need of some arch-conservatives to "stick it" to President Obama more or less indiscriminately. But, as Vox and others have pointed out, this strategy may otherwise prove counterproductive -- because, from the Republican perspective, "there's no argument against Loretta Lynch that isn't a better argument against Eric Holder."

As the process drags on, it grows harder by the hour to imagine a scenario in which further prolonging Lynch's otherwise all-but-assured confirmation could possibly serve any broader strategic goal. In fact, the opposite is very likely true.

Since the first round of stalling began, the GOP has largely capitulated on the president's actions on immigration -- for which the Lynch nomination was once viewed as a potential point of leverage. That moment, and countless other opportunities, have long since passed. At this point, as the White House has taken pains to point out, Lynch's nomination has been pending for over 130 days -- longer than the nominations of the previous five attorneys general combined. Yet somehow, preposterously, there remains no clear end in sight.

Although many in the GOP will ultimately vote against Lynch, virtually no one has managed to articulate any reason, sensible or otherwise, why she should be considered unfit to serve as attorney general. Those who oppose her on political or policy grounds can -- and will -- simply vote the other way. Why not let them vote?

As Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip, has colorfully suggested, even defeating Lynch -- absurd as it would appear, given her unassailable qualifications -- would make far more sense than continuing to dither. In the meantime, with no clear endgame or easy off-ramp in sight, the optics of opposing the nation's first African-American female attorney general will only continue to worsen -- as Durbin's provocative "back of the bus" comments pointedly illustrate.

Of course, none of this is to suggest that optics have played any significant role in guiding Senate Republicans thus far. For a brief moment, it even appeared as though Lynch might win a guest-starring role on the latest ludicrous episode of the Senator Ted Cruz show.

Bearing hallmarks of the same shrewd "lead fellow Republicans into traffic and walk away" strategy he employed to such great effect during the 2013 government shutdown, Cruz's most recent crusade appears to have been diverted, at least for the moment, by the full Senate's vacillations. Whether this quixotic campaign will ride again -- perhaps once Lynch's nomination actually makes it to the floor -- remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, these and other recent machinations -- including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's obstinate suggestion that the U.S. Senate couldn't possibly walk and chew gum at the same time -- seem calculated only to ensure that, whenever Lynch is finally confirmed, she will inherit the same strained, adversarial relationship that Republicans have painstakingly cultivated with her predecessor.

This would be a serious blunder. Like Holder before her, Republicans have no real enemy in Lynch unless and until they make one. In the early days, one must remember, Holder enjoyed bipartisan support. He was confirmed in 2009 by a vote of 75-21.

Hysterical reactions to certain early statements aside, initial indications seemed as promising as one might have hoped, given the acrimonious political climate. And things might have proceeded quite differently, and taken a far less destructive course, had House Republicans not made a deliberate decision to spectacularly destroy their collective relationship with the attorney general for narrow political gain.

There's no question that the relationship had begun to sour before Republicans assumed control of the House of Representatives, in 2011. But it was the passing of the (humorously large) gavel that marked a critical turning point.

In a Fox News Sunday appearance just before he became Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Representative Darrell Issa quibbled with Holder's handling of a few key law enforcement matters before angrily and somewhat incongruously declaring that the attorney general should "stop hurting the administration or leave."

Over the next two years, in their zeal to drive Holder from office, Issa and his allies would grossly overplay their hands. They barely laid a glove on the resilient attorney general (just ask Representative Louie Gohmert and his poor, defamed asparagus) while needlessly exacerbating relations with the Executive Branch.

There is a hard lesson in this. The Justice Department, by definition, is peculiarly situated to take incoming fire on a range of divisive issues -- and from both ends of the political spectrum. Periodic clashes are inevitable in an age of such stark political demarcation. But in seeking to perpetuate an indiscriminate "war of choice" on Obama's attorney general, whomever he or she might be, the GOP is repeating a grave mistake -- and poisoning what might otherwise be a cordial, or even productive, working relationship.