As congressional lawmakers prepared to head home to celebrate the Easter and Passover holidays, dozens of African-American faith and civil rights leaders gathered outside of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office to urge him to hold a confirmation vote on Loretta Lynch. Don't make her a sacrificial lamb, the group of women said.
Efforts to meet with McConnell Thursday morning failed. He was too busy, said the chief of staff who met with them for about 20 minutes but offered only talking points that they found both inadequate and insulting to explain the confirmation vote delay.
"At the end of the day, [Lynch] is being used as a political football and that is not acceptable," said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable.
Several of the women participated in a prayerful protest in the Capitol and declared that they will not be deterred. Indeed, they announced, the majority leader and other senators should expect to see and hear from them when they get home.
"We plan to continue this through the recess in the districts," said Campbell. "We're going to the district offices and we'll be right back here on April 13," when lawmakers return.
The reasons to delay the vote to confirm President Obama's attorney general nominee continue to multiply. Last week, McConnell was insistent that the upper chamber first pass a human trafficking bill that includes language on abortion restrictions he knows Democrats will never support. Before that, it was the ongoing stalemate over immigration. This week passing a budget bill has become the priority.
Lynch's supporters would, under different circumstances, enjoy a good laugh at the irony of how these repeated delays keep Eric Holder — whom Republican lawmakers have for six years viewed with contempt both figuratively and literally — in office. Instead, they are becoming increasingly cynical about why, at about 140 days and counting, Lynch has waited longer for a confirmation vote than any other attorney general nominee in the past 30 years.
Is it because she's African-American, Black leaders have begun to ask. Or, is it because she's a woman? Both?
"No other nominee has had more than an 18-day wait on average. If it looks like a duck and talks like a duck, it is a duck," said Barbara Williams-Skinner, president and co-founder of the Skinner Leadership Institute, who, with Campbell, organized the protest. "The duck is that she's being treated differently and that's a standard that allows some people to call this both racist and sexist."
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois in a recent floor speech said that Lynch "is being asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar," which outraged colleagues like Sen. John McCain, who called the remark "inflammatory rhetoric." Some African-American leaders and political observers agree with the Arizona Republican.
The problem, however, is that even her detractors agree that she is more than qualified to be attorney general, which makes the delays unconscionable in her supporters' minds, leaving room for speculation about the motives. They also send the wrong message to the American public.
"History is a great teacher. If you study it you see that [Lynch] is the second woman and the first African-American woman nominee and the only difference in what's going on is [race]," Campbell said. "She's imminently qualified. She's jumped through all of the hoops and is ready to serve. And that's what we're talking about – serving the country. The American people know fairness and it's not fair what's happening."
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, who shepherded the women over to McConnell's leadership perch, is not ready to call the Kentucky lawmaker a racist, but she does believe that continuing to hold up the confirmation vote raises questions that need to be answered.
"If you hold up an African-American woman, the image going out to America is that something is wrong with her. That hurts my heart because nothing is wrong with her," said Jackson Lee, who noted that Lynch's credentials are "impeccable" and the fact that she has been confirmed by the Senate twice before. "She is African-American and a descendant of slaves. She is in fact the very essence of what America should be – that all people should have opportunity."
Williams-Skinner said that McConnell may not even realize that his inaction suggests gender and racial inequality, but that does not absolve him of the responsibility to lead.
"Mitch McConnell doesn't have to guarantee that she's confirmed. He only has to make sure that a vote is made possible. That's all we're asking him to do. Confirmation is up to the 100 members of the U.S. Senate," she said. "It's an issue of leadership. We want him to step up as a leader and do what is morally right."
Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.
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