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White House: 'Unconscionable' To Delay Attorney General Confirmation Over Standoff on Human Trafficking Bill

White House: 'Unconscionable' To Delay Attorney General Confirmation Over Standoff on Human Trafficking Bill

March 17, 2015 — White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Monday said it is "unconscionable" for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to delay a confirmation vote for U.S. attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch until the chamber moves forward on a human trafficking bill (S 178) that contains a contentious antiabortion-rights provision, the New York Times reports (Steinhauer, New York Times, 3/17).

Lynch's nomination has been pending for 129 days as of Tuesday (Ruger, CQ Roll Call, 3/17). According to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Lynch's nomination has been awaiting confirmation by the full Senate after approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee for longer than the past five attorneys general combined (Grossman/McCain Nelson, Wall Street Journal, 3/16).

Background on Trafficking Bill Dispute

The legislation includes various provisions aimed at curtailing human trafficking and targeting perpetrators. However, a dispute erupted over language from anti-choice legislators that is included in the bill.

Supporters of abortion rights who object to the language said it would expand existing restrictions on abortion funding by permanently applying the Hyde Amendment to a survivors' compensation fund, which is financed by fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders.

Meanwhile, lawmakers who oppose abortion rights have so far refused to remove the language from the bill (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/16). A vote to end debate on the bill failed Tuesday morning, 55-43. The bill needed 60 votes to advance (Kapur, "TPM DC," Talking Points Memo, 3/17).

Comments From White House, Lawmakers

Earnest said that "[t]here is no question that [conservatives] are playing politics with the nomination of the nation's top law-enforcement official, and it should come to an end. There is no good reason that she has not been confirmed" (Wall Street Journal, 3/16).

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "Any attempt to hold a confirmation vote hostage because of this abortion provision is a sham" (Fabian, The Hill, 3/16). Reid has previously said that Senate lawmakers "can finish this bill in 20 minutes. The only thing that needs to be done is the language relating to abortion should come out of this bill" (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/13).

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said, "We're willing to work with [conservatives], but they can't keep waving red meat in order to slow down the process. Let's take the trafficking bill we all agreed to last year and pass it" (DeBonis, Washington Post, 3/16).

Some House Republicans also said that they do not believe the antiabortion-rights language should have been included in the bill, according to the Times (Steinhauer, New York Times, 3/17).

Reaction From Other Stakeholders

Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said in a statement that it is "outrageous" for lawmakers who oppose abortion rights "to use legislation designed to help survivors of human trafficking as the vehicle to advance the extreme anti-choice agenda." She called on Senate leaders to "stop playing politics with women's health and our nation's justice system" and "[s]trike the abortion restriction in the human trafficking bill, confirm Loretta Lynch, and get back to the business of governing" (National Partnership statement, 3/16).

NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement, "Human trafficking is a horrible crime that needs to be addressed and it should never be used as a ploy to advance McConnell's personal anti-women's health politics." NARAL added, "By singling out Loretta Lynch's nomination for U.S. Attorney General, an extremely qualified candidate who has a record prosecuting these very crimes, McConnell is obstructing real progress" (CQ Roll Call, 3/17).

In addition, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Executive Director Taina Bien-Aime said, "We are hoping that victims of human trafficking are not going to be used as political footballs when we know how devastated their lives are at the hands of traffickers and pimps" (Fox, National Journal, 3/16).

NYT: Delay of Lynch's Confirmation 'Beyond Irresponsible'

Lynch's confirmation "is being held hostage to last-minute political mischief" that has nothing "to do with the prevention of human trafficking" or Lynch herself, a New York Times editorial states.

The Times argues, "It is beyond irresponsible to strand the [Justice] department without a leader, sowing instability and uncertainty in an important executive agency."

The Times continues that "Lynch, a supremely well-qualified prosecutor, has waited far too long to be confirmed." The editorial adds that conservative lawmakers should "en[d] the delay on what should be a straightforward floor vote and do the job Americans elected them to do" (New York Times, 3/17).