Holder Confirmed as Attorney General

Posted February 2, 2009 at 5:42pm

The Senate on Monday confirmed Eric Holder to become the first black attorney general, capping a prolonged but ultimately smooth confirmation process that saw little of the partisan fireworks some Republicans had hoped for.

By a vote of 75-21, the Senate handily backed Holder’s nomination to lead the Justice Department. The strong vote came despite early concerns over Holder’s involvement in a series of controversial pardons during the Clinton administration.

Although President Barack Obama announced Holder’s nomination late last year, the appointment hit a bit of a snag after Republicans raised questions about his character and ability to act independently of the new president.

Led by Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a small group of GOP Senators forced Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to delay the start of confirmation hearings and then put off a committee vote for an additional week to review Holder’s record and answers to written questions.

While a number of Republicans and outside conservative activists had hoped to use the hearings to exact promises from Holder on a number of issues — and to use his connections to the Clinton-era pardons to inflict some political wounds — in the end, little damage was done.

Indeed, even Specter ultimately backed Holder’s nomination, voting with the majority of committee members to advance his confirmation to the full Senate. The Judiciary Committee voted 17-2 in favor of Holder’s installment as attorney general.

Leahy on Monday used his opening statement on the floor to chide Republicans. He complained that the GOP’s tactics had unnecessarily delayed change in leadership at the Department of Justice, which was sorely needed after the scandals of the Bush administration.

“The need for new leadership at the Department of Justice is as critical today as it has ever been. Over the last few years, political manipulation from the White House has undercut the Justice Department in its mission and shaken public confidence in our federal justice system,” Leahy said.

“Mr. Holder’s designation was greeted with delight by the career professionals at the Justice Department because they know him well. They know he is the right person to restore the department,” he added. “They know him from his 12 years at the Public Integrity Section, from his time as the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, from his tenure on the bench, and from his years as the deputy attorney general, the second-highest ranking official at the department. His confirmation will do a great deal to restore morale and purpose throughout the department.”

With Holder’s nomination out of the way, only a handful of Obama’s top Cabinet slots remain unfilled. Although the Senate has proceeded at a slower pace in confirming Obama’s picks than it did with either Clinton or Bush’s picks, Democrats and Republicans alike have dismissed the lag as largely the result of the legislative heavy-lifting before the chamber. With the Senate focused on the economic crisis and passage of a children’s health bill, confirmation hearings have had to take a back seat to legislative activity, aides in both parties said.