Eric Holder said on Thursday he would step down as U.S. attorney general, setting up a potentially bruising Senate fight to confirm a successor who can tackle a long list of pending challenges at the Justice Department.
Holder, an unapologetic liberal voice and one of President Barack Obama’s closest allies, will remain in office until a successor is nominated and confirmed. His nearly six-year term, marked by civil rights advances and frequent fights with Congress, made him one of the nation’s longest serving attorneys generals.
“I will never leave the work. I will continue to serve,” Holder, with Obama at his side, said during a brief White House announcement of his departure.
The next attorney general will face many challenges, including managing counter-terror initiatives aimed at Islamic State terrorists, balancing privacy rights against government surveillance efforts, and deciding whether to continue attempts to prosecute former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, now living in Russia, for revealing surveillance secrets.
Holder’s successor also will oversee a series of cases against banks and individuals over the manipulation of foreign exchange rates, and must decide whether to continue Holder’s effort to scale back the prosecution of nonviolent drug offenders.
Holder’s departure could set off a tense confirmation fight with Republicans in a lame-duck U.S. Senate session scheduled after the Nov. 4 midterm elections, although the chamber’s majority Democrats can invoke rules making it easier to get around Republican efforts to block confirmation.
Republicans hope to gain a Senate majority in the elections, making it likely Obama will send up a nomination before a new Congress convenes in January.