Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, arguably the chief Republican opponent of the nomination of Loretta Lynch as U.S. attorney general, was the only senator to opt out of Thursday's historic 56-43 vote in which the Senate confirmed Lynch as the first African-American woman to lead the U.S. Department of Justice.
Cruz had left Washington prior to the vote so he could attend a Dallas fundraiser for his presidential campaign. But one of his aides sought to downplay Cruz's absence, characterizing Lynch's confirmation -- after a 167-day delay -- as a done deal following a procedural vote earlier Thursday, in which Cruz had participated.
“If the Senate could get 60 votes for cloture, they could get 51 for final confirmation,” Cruz spokeswoman Amanda Carpenter tweeted after Democrats and the media noticed Cruz's absence. “Cloture is the only vote that mattered.”
Here's why Cruz had to fly back to Texas before the final Lynch vote... pic.twitter.com/
— Rebecca Berg (@rebeccagberg) April 23, 2015
Of course, Cruz’s absence didn’t dampen the historic moment for Lynch's key supporters -- President Barack Obama, members of his administration, Democratic members of Congress and civil rights leaders -- all of whom heralded Thursday's vote.
"America will be better off" for confirming Lynch, Obama said in a statement after the vote. “She will bring to bear her experience as a tough, independent, and well-respected prosecutor on key, bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform. Loretta’s confirmation ensures that we are better positioned to keep our communities safe, keep our nation secure, and ensure that every American experiences justice under the law.”
Obama had nominated Lynch on Nov. 8 to succeed Eric Holder, the first black attorney general. But leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate had refused to vote on Lynch's confirmation until a deal was reached on a human-trafficking bill that included anti-abortion provisions opposed by Democrats. The 167-day wait for Lynch's confirmation vote was the longest for an attorney general nominee in decades.
Holder said Thursday he was pleased that Lynch had been confirmed. “I congratulate her on her confirmation, and I look forward to all that the Department of Justice will do and achieve under her exemplary leadership,” Holder said in a statement.
Several Democrats who supported Lynch wished her well after the vote. “Not only is she making history as the first African-American woman to serve in this role, she is one of our country’s most accomplished and distinguished minds serving in law enforcement,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, the state where Lynch served as a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District (Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Nassau and Suffolk counties).
“Loretta Lynch is one of the best I’ve seen in my 22 years in the Senate, and I’m confident that she will be a stellar attorney general,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, some of whom alleged racism in the five-month delay of Lynch’s confirmation, celebrated after Thursday's vote.
“Ms. Lynch was the choice of President Obama, she is the choice of the Congressional Black Caucus, and she is the best choice for all Americans,” said U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat who serves as the group's chairman. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican senator, voted against confirming Lynch. He declined membership in the black caucus.
Indiana Sen. Dan Coats was one of the few Republican opponents of Lynch's confirmation to offer an explanation for his vote. He said he disagreed with Lynch's support of Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which expanded deportation deferments and extended work permits for millions of undocumented immigrants. “This vote is entirely about preserving the Constitution and our system of checks and balances,” Coats said in a statement.
'Breach Of Trust'
While some civil rights leaders praised Lynch's qualifications and her track record on issues that mattered to them, others weren't ready to let go of their anger over the long delay before the confirmation vote.
“After more than 165 days and countless meetings, marches, prayer vigils, press conferences and hunger strikes, we’re pleased that the Senate finally did the right thing,” Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement. “The Senate leadership will have to work hard to overcome this breach of trust,” National Urban League President Marc Morial said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network had joined with women’s groups for a hunger strike until Lynch’s Senate confirmation. “We cannot let right-wing forces change the direction that the Justice Department has been moving in the last several years,” Sharpton said in a statement. “We hope that while the game has changed quarterbacks, that the goal line of equal protection under the law, police reform, and voting rights for everyone, will remain unchanged.”