Rob Christensen

Loretta Lynch nomination shows politics as usual

Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch
Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch AP

Loretta Lynch, a highly regarded federal prosecutor, is likely to become the first attorney general from North Carolina in American history.

Her Senate confirmation is likely to come over the opposition of North Carolina’s two senators who have said they plan to vote against her. One shouldn’t be surprised, because that is the way Washington’s hyperpartisan politics works these days.

During last year’s Senate campaign, Republican candidate Thom Tillis made much of Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan voting 95 percent of the time with Democratic President Barack Obama.

He contrasted himself as someone interested in bipartisan approaches. He liked to cite the early 1980s, when Republican President Ronald Reagan worked with congressional Democrats.

“Democrats and Republicans finally got together and said enough is enough,” Tillis said in Lumberton. “They said it was time to get America back on track.”

However sincere Tillis may have been, once he got into office, he found out he is not a free agent in these matters.

Tillis owes his Senate seat to the Republican establishment in Washington, which bankrolled much of his campaign effort, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

U.S. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in particular, was important in not giving up on Tillis in September when nearly all the polls showed him losing to Hagan. McConnell’s NRSC ended up spending $8.9 million on Tillis’ behalf.

(This is hardly a Republican issue. If Hagan had won, she would have been beholden to Democratic groups that gave her millions.)

As a freshman senator, Tillis could hardly break with the GOP Senate caucus position without painting himself as a political maverick.

Three Republicans did vote in committee for Lynch – Orrin Hatch of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona. But they are all senior Republicans who have political capital.

The GOP Senate leadership is going after Lynch as a way to send a message to Obama that they don’t like his immigration policy – or much else for that matter. So that was one of Tillis’ talking points.

Tillis also objected to Lynch saying she didn’t like North Carolina’s new requirement that voters must show photo IDs. But that is thin reasoning. The two political parties are as polarized on voter ID as any issue in American politics.

Obama is not about to nominate a supporter of the voter ID laws, any more than the next Republican president is going to name a critic of voter IDs as his attorney general.

Casting about for reasons for why he was voting against a fellow Tar Heel, Tillis suggested she wasn’t qualified because she didn’t have management experience. This was even more of a reach.

Lynch is not some left-wing professor without much real-world experience.

Lynch, the daughter of a prominent Durham pastor, has both undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard. She was twice U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, where her office was known for its prosecution of organized crime, terrorism and public corruption. She was twice confirmed by the U.S. Senate for that post. About 400 people work for her.

She had no personal ties with Obama before her nomination.

Republican Sen. Richard Burr has also said he will oppose her confirmation. Burr, who faces re-election next year, tends to move to his right before an election to head off a more conservative primary challenger, as blogger John Wynne noted.

As he said before his 2010 race: “No one is going to get to the right of me.”

Voting against an Obama nomination, of course, scores points on the political right, regardless of Lynch’s merits.

As usual, symbolism and partisanship trumps substance and collegiality in Washington.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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