WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch won two key Republican endorsements Thursday en route to likely confirmation as the first black woman in the nation's top law enforcement job.
"I believe she's not only qualified but exceptionally well-qualified and a very good person, to boot," Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, declared from the dais on the second day of Lynch's confirmation hearing to replace Eric Holder.
Another committee Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, said later he, too, intended to back Lynch. GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he was inclined to do the same.
That seemed to guarantee Lynch's approval by the Judiciary Committee in coming weeks, since she needs only two Republican votes on the panel if all Democrats back her. From there, her nomination would move to the full Senate, where she also is likely to win approval.
Lynch, 55, the top federal prosecutor since 2010 for parts of New York City and Long Island, promised senators a fresh start from Holder, who has clashed repeatedly with congressional Republicans during his six years in the job. Republicans deride him as a liberal firebrand and cheerleader for President Barack Obama, and can barely wait to be rid of him.
That accounted in part for the swell of GOP support for Lynch after a daylong confirmation hearing Wednesday where she calmly pledged independence from Obama and promised to work with the Republican-led Congress.
"If confirmed as attorney general, I would be myself. I would be Loretta Lynch," she said, when asked how senators could be assured that she would lead differently.
Lynch did not appear Thursday at the second and final day of her confirmation hearing, which instead featured testimony from outside witnesses, several of whom were summoned by Republicans to amplify their criticism of Obama and Holder.
On Wednesday, Lynch aligned herself with Holder on certain policy decisions, agreeing with his assertions that interrogation by waterboarding is torture and illegal, that civilian courts are an appropriate venue to prosecute suspected terrorists captured overseas, and that the department's limited resources are best reserved for prosecuting violent offenders. She offered support for some controversial Obama administration policies, including the president's unilateral protections for millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
But on other points, she also struck a firmer law-and-order stance, announcing without hesitation her support for the death penalty as an effective punishment — a change in tone from Holder.
Several of the more conservative committee members were frustrated as they tried to draw her into criticism of Obama or Holder.
"Try as I might, there has been nothing I have been able to ask you that has yielded any answer suggesting any limitations whatsoever on the authority of the president," said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Lynch disagreed with that characterization, saying the American people, and not the president, would be "my client and my first thought."
Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said after the hearing concluded Thursday that he had some additional questions for Lynch before he could decide whether to support her.
"Nothing about her qualifications, they're outstanding. The question is, is she willing to take an independent point of view and turn things around?" Grassley told reporters.