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National

Democrats Call Lynch Confirmation Delay A New Low In Washington Gridlock

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

After a long delay, the U.S. Senate could vote tomorrow on President Obama's nominee for attorney general. Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch has waited more than five months for lawmakers to act. If confirmed, she'll be the first black woman to lead the Justice Department. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has more.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: It's hard to imagine a more unlikely lightning rod than career prosecutor Loretta Lynch. Over 16 years in law enforcement, she's locked up terrorists, mob bosses and cyber thieves. But her nomination has become mired in a political fight over the White House plan on immigration and even a human trafficking bill.

RON WEICH: It disturbs me that the process has become so muddy.

JOHNSON: Ron Weich worked in the Senate in the Obama Justice Department before joining the University of Baltimore School of Law.

WEICH: There is such a partisan approach to what should be a relatively straightforward analysis of whether a nominee is competent and ethical and has stature.

JOHNSON: Capitol Hill sources from both political parties say they expect Lynch will be approved once the full Senate actually votes on her nomination. But Weich says the months of delay will leave a bad aftertaste.

WEICH: She's going to take office with a great deal of energy and optimism, but it's unfortunate. It does sour the relationship between the nominee and soon-to-be cabinet officer and the Senate. It shouldn't be this way.

BRIAN BENCZKOWSKI: Any new attorney general, but particularly this one, is going to want to build a relationship with Congress.

JOHNSON: That's Brian Benczkowski. He served as a senior official in the George W. Bush Justice Department. He's also a former Republican Senate aide. Benczkowski says Lynch could devote herself to improving the relationship with lawmakers.

BENCZKOWSKI: They're going to scrutinize what you do. They're going to criticize what you do. And if you have a good relationship with them, if you try to build bridges, it can make that process a lot easier.

JOHNSON: Especially when it comes to passing legislation that's a priority for the White House. Retired federal Judge Michael Mukasey worked as attorney general for the last couple years of the Bush administration, just as Loretta Lynch may be taking office for the final stretch of the Obama presidency. Mukasey says in some ways, the job is easier closer to the finish line. That's because many of the ambitious priorities and programs the White House demands are already in place. But Mukasey says he spent a lot of time on one key issue - urging lawmakers to renew a surveillance law known as FISA.

MICHAEL MUKASEY: Part of what I had to do was to lobby - principally on the telephone although in person, too - on FISA, which allowed me to get to know a lot of people.

JOHNSON: And it so happens that may be a central task for Loretta Lynch, too. That's because parts of another surveillance law known as the Patriot Act, including a controversial program leaked by Edward Snowden, are set to expire in June unless, of course, Congress decides to act. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.