With midterms looming, McConnell expects — but doesn't want — quick confirmation on Holder successor

09/27/2014 06:45 PM

Count Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell among Senate Republicans who prefer holding confirmation hearings on outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s replacement after a new Congress is sworn into office in January.

But McConnell expects Democrats to push a nominee through the Senate after this fall’s elections since the party controls the chamber’s agenda and needs only a majority vote to confirm President Barack Obama’s executive branch nominees, thanks to a change in Senate rules by Democratic leader Harry Reid last year that disallows filibusters on cabinet confirmations.

“It would be my preference, but we don’t have any ball control on that,” McConnell told Pure Politics before the Marion County Country Ham Days parade Saturday. “We have a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate at least until Jan. 2, so I’m sure they’ll try to have the confirmation before then.”

Holder announced his resignation Thursday but said he would stay in the Obama administration until his replacement is confirmed.

Holder’s decision to step down comes in the midst of the midterm election cycle, with the GOP jockeying to pick up six seats and attain a majority. The possibility that the Senate could confirm an attorney general in the so-called “lame duck” session of Congress between the November elections and the seating of newly elected senators in January has prompted an outcry from Republicans in the chamber.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called such a move by Senate Democrats “an abuse of power that should not be countenanced,” according to The Washington Post.

McConnell, too, would rather see Holder’s successor named once the next Congress takes office. While linking his opponent, Democratic Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, to Obama has been central to his campaign messaging, McConnell has spent considerable time touting his potential ascension from minority leader to majority leader in the Senate with a GOP windfall at the polls this fall.

“Of course we’ll have a Democratic majority in the Senate at least until the end of the year and they’ll determine the schedule, so it’s really beyond my ability to impact that,” he said.

Although the path to a confirmation eases with Reid’s procedural rule change, Grimes, too, reiterated one of her campaign themes in painting McConnell as a chief of partisan gridlock. Other Senate confirmations have been stymied by McConnell-led blockades, she said.

“My hope is that the next attorney general will strike a balance between enforcing the laws and protecting the rights of all American citizens,” she told Pure Politics.

McConnell declined to discuss potential replacements for Holder, though he called the attorney general’s decision to end his five-year stint in the Obama administration “good news.”

“He was a terrible attorney general,” McConnell said. “I voted against him, predicting it correctly that he would be a very partisan attorney general. Just to give you one example, the Supreme Court upheld photo ID at the polls 6-3. Holder said it was unconstitutional. He wouldn’t follow the law. He was a very political attorney general.”

While McConnell voted against Holder as attorney general in 2009, he was in the vast minority. FiveThirtyEight looked at attorney general votes dating back to 1977 and found Holder’s 21 “no” votes were the fewest since Janet Reno’s unanimous confirmation in 1993.

President George W. Bush appointee John Ashcroft faced the most scrutiny in recent confirmations, with 42 senators voting “no.” Fellow Bush appointees Alberto Gonzalez and Michael Mukasey fared a little better, with 36 and 40 senators voting against their confirmations in 2005 and 2007, according to the website’s analysis.

From FiveThirtyEight:

_We don’t know how quickly Obama will name Holder’s successor or how soon the Senate will vote. President George W. Bush nominated Mukasey in mid-September 2007, and Mukasey was confirmed by early November. When Obama’s new AG nominee faces a vote, Democrats are likely to hold a slight majority or be in the minority. That may be why Holder announced his resignation now; with a possible Republican majority in 2015, the next Congress might have the potential for more “no’s” than the current one.

But let’s not get carried away: Remember, most AG nominees are confirmed. But they’re confirmed with more difficulty than nominees for other Cabinet positions._

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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