The partisan spat over the stalled Loretta Lynch attorney general nomination heated up Thursday, as did behind-the-scenes Senate negotiations that could allow for her confirmation vote.
The day's developments featured the postponement of a cloture vote on an anti-human-trafficking bill and persistent rumors of a deal, offset by accusations exchanged between the White House press secretary and a top aide to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
At the end of the day, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was "optimistic" that the trafficking bill would only take one day on the Senate floor next week if the two sides reach an agreement. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., responded with a hint that he might somehow force a vote on Lynch, saying: "I want everyone to know — Ms. Lynch's nomination will not remain in purgatory forever."
Earlier in the day, McConnell, R-Ky., ditched a vote on an anti-human-trafficking bill (S 178) in favor of more talks with Democrats.
Republicans have said a vote on the measure must happen before the Senate moves on to a confirmation vote on Loretta Lynch’s bid to be attorney general.
Democrats, however, remain adamant that they will oppose an abortion provision in the bill that would limit how money collected from human traffickers could be spent to help victims.
The impasse has stalled President Barack Obama’s pick of Lynch, even though she appears to have the votes to pass, as well as the broadly bipartisan anti-trafficking measure. Lynch would be the first black woman at the helm of the Justice Department.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said at a news conference Thursday that there is a “serious possibility” that negotiations now could be fruitful, but “we don’t know yet.”
Later in the day, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters a deal was close at hand: “We should be able to wrap it up I'm hoping by Monday or Tuesday." He didn't mention a vote.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest brought a different vibe to the discussion at an afternoon news conference, when he called the delay of Lynch’s confirmation vote as “Exhibit A” about why it’s hard to work with Republican members of Congress.
He called comments on television Thursday from Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, “an astounding display of duplicity” when it came to the delay in Lynch’s nomination. Grassley said that November and December shouldn’t count as a delay on Lynch because Democrats were in control of the Senate during that time.
"The only conclusion I can draw from this astounding exchange is that it’s possible Senator Grassley’s been in Washington too long,“ Earnest said.
When a reporter asked if that was helpful to getting Lynch confirmed, Earnest replied: “Being nice has gotten us a 160-day delay. Maybe after they look up duplicitous in the dictionary we’ll get a different result.”
A spokeswoman for Grassley fired back. “If nothing else, the White House certainly is good at rewriting history,” Beth Levine said in a written statement.
“The fact of the matter is that when Eric Holder announced his intention to step down in September, Senate Democrats had a 55 seat majority,” Levine said. “If you believe the White House and Senate Democrats had Republicans’ best interests in mind when they delayed consideration of the Lynch nomination last fall, you hadn’t watched how Harry Reid ran the Senate. It was abundantly clear then — just as it is now — that Senate Democrats’ priorities didn’t include the Lynch nomination.”
Levine said Democrats chose to push through confirmations of federal judges instead of Lynch’s nomination.
“Instead of lodging personal attacks against a highly respected senator, the White House would be better off spending time getting their left-wing lobby to drop their opposition to legislative language that has been the law of the land for more than 35 years,” Levine said. “Maybe at that point Senate Democrats would stop filibustering a bill that would help end sex slavery and human trafficking and the Senate could then turn to the Lynch nomination.”
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said the latest amendment to the bill from Cornyn tried to peel away enough minority party members to overcome the Democratic filibuster.
But he said that’s apparently failed, and he hopes that Republicans realize they will not get to 60 votes on the bill that otherwise has broad bipartisan support.
Steven Dennis contributed to this report.