Loretta Lynch won confirmation as the nation’s first black woman attorney general Thursday from a Senate that forced her to wait more than five months for the title and remained divided to the end.
The 56-43 vote installs Lynch, now U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, at the Justice Department to replace Eric Holder. Holder has served in the job throughout the Obama administration, becoming a lightning rod for conservatives who perceived him as overly political and liberal, and even getting held in contempt of Congress.
Lynch, 55, is seen as a no-nonsense prosecutor, and has wide law enforcement support. The issue that tore into her support was immigration, and her refusal to denounce President Barack Obama’s executive actions limiting deportations for millions of people living illegally in this country. Questioned on the issue at her confirmation hearing in January, she said she believed Obama’s actions were reasonable and lawful.
Democrats angrily criticized Republicans for using the issue against her, saying an executive branch nominee could not be expected to disagree strongly with the president who appointed her, but Republicans were unapologetic.
Still, Lynch won the support of 10 Republicans, more than expected in the days heading into the vote. In a surprise, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was among those voting “yes.”
From the White House, Obama hailed her confirmation.
“Loretta has spent her life fighting for the fair and equal justice that is the foundation of our democracy,” he said. “She will bring to bear her experience as a tough, independent and well-respected prosecutor on key, bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform.”