Criticism of Holder Dominates Hearing on Attorney General’s Possible Successor

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from The New York Times,

Again and again, Senate Republicans made one thing clear Wednesday: They would not vote to confirm Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general. They were less passionate, however, about the person they were considering to replace him, Loretta E. Lynch.

Ms. Lynch had steeled herself for tough questioning from a new Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee, particularly on her views of President Obama’s immigration policy. But the questioning was mostly cordial, and, most important, the Republicans on the committee who hold the key to Ms. Lynch’s confirmation — she needs three of their votes to proceed to a vote by the full Senate — showed little opposition.

Instead, their sharpest criticism during several hours of questioning was reserved for Mr. Holder, who is resigning as attorney general after six years in which he frequently clashed with Republican lawmakers who accused him of politicizing the Justice Department. The focus on Mr. Holder, an outspoken liberal voice in the administration who has referred to himself as the president’s “wingman,” allowed Ms. Lynch to parry the most contentious questions and present herself as an independent alternative.

On the issue of immigration, Ms. Lynch said she found it “reasonable” that the Justice Department had concluded it was lawful for Mr. Obama to unilaterally ease the threat of deportation for millions of unauthorized immigrants. Mr. Holder similarly endorsed that view.

“You’ve asked how I will be different from Eric Holder,” Ms. Lynch told Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas. “I will be Loretta Lynch.”

That could be enough to win her confirmation. Senators raised few questions about Ms. Lynch’s own record. She has spent nearly all of her career as a federal prosecutor, which has created a long record of casework but few political decisions to scrutinize. She began in government as a young lawyer at the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn and worked her way into senior management. She has twice been confirmed by the Senate to serve as the United States attorney there.

The Judiciary Committee contains some of the administration’s most strident critics, including Mr. Cruz and Senators Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Mike Lee of Utah and David Vitter of Louisiana. Mr. Vitter has already said he will not vote to confirm Ms. Lynch, and Mr. Sessions called her approval of the immigration policy “very troubling.”

“Now, you’re here defending this, and I believe it’s indefensible,” Mr. Sessions said. “I just want to tell you, that’s a big problem for me.”

There were few such exchanges, however. And Ms. Lynch, who has a reputation as difficult to rattle, never appeared flustered, even as the hearing stretched into the night.

On matters of policy, Ms. Lynch called capital punishment “an effective penalty” and said she disagreed with Mr. Obama’s statements that marijuana was no more harmful than alcohol. She called the National Security Agency’s collection of American phone records “certainly constitutional, and effective.”

Mr. Holder’s tenure made him a hero for many liberal groups as the Justice Department increased prosecutions of civil rights violations, embraced same-sex marriage, scaled back the war on drugs and reduced the prison population for the first time in a generation.

His appearances on Capitol Hill, however, were frequently heated.

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