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Attorney General Nomination Expected To Advance To Full Senate

Loretta Lynch faced questioning from senators in her bid for confirmation. Republicans used the opportunity to criticize the president's executive actions on immigration and Eric Holder's record.

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For Loretta Lynch the goal is clear. She is the nominee to become the first African-American woman to lead the Justice Department. The obstacle is also clear. Republicans who control the Senate are not happy with the administration Lynch would join. So she faced a full day of questions at a confirmation hearing. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The temperature in the Senate office building stayed cool. Loretta Lynch had support if she needed - from her elderly father named who beamed from the front row behind her, the Navy Seal Trident pin that belonged to her late brother and sat on a table beside her and her Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters, who turned out in full force wearing their trademark red suits. Lynch appeared before the Republican-led Judiciary Committee with a peace offering.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL CONFIRMATION HEARING)

LORETTA LYNCH: I look over to fostering a new and improved relationship with this committee and the entire United States Congress.

JOHNSON: GOP Senators spent much of the day bashing her predecessor, Eric Holder, who once called himself the president's wingman. Here's John Cornyn of Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL CONFIRMATION HEARING)

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: Let me just stipulate - you're not Eric Holder, are you?

LYNCH: No, I'm not, sir.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNYN: So no one's suggesting that you are, but of course, Attorney General Holder's record is heavy on our minds now.

JOHNSON: Lynch mostly made common cause with Republicans on national security. She called government surveillance programs legal and effective. She promised terrorists who attack Americans here or overseas would face justice. But there was this exchange with Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL CONFIRMATION HEARING)

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: Do you agree that waterboarding is torture and that it's illegal?

LYNCH: Waterboarding is torture, Senator.

LEAHY: And thus illegal.

LYNCH: And thus illegal.

JOHNSON: Her handling of questions about the White House action on immigration didn't go quite as smoothly. Lynch said she agreed with the legal opinion backing temporary reprieve from deportation for 4 million people. That conclusion didn't go over well with many Republicans, including Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, the committee chairman.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL CONFIRMATION HEARING)

REPRESENTATIVE CHARLES GRASSLEY: What are the outer limits of the doctrine of prosecutorial discretion, and why don't the president's actions exceed those boundaries when we're talking about millions of people?

JOHNSON: And then Lynch initially signaled people in the country illegally may have some kind of right to work, a statement that left Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama gaping.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL CONFIRMATION HEARING)

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS: Is a civil right for a person who enters the country unlawfully, who would like to work and like to be a citizen, to demand that on contrary to the laws of the United States?

JOHNSON: No, Lynch said, clarifying her position with help from an ally, New York Democrat Charles Schumer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL CONFIRMATION HEARING)

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: And I would like to remind my colleagues that the president's immigration policies are not seeking confirmation today. Loretta Lynch is.

JOHNSON: Other Democrats inquired about how she'd work to repair relations between police and minority communities after officers killed unarmed African-Americans in Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland. Lynch, who's won support from federal agents and police groups, went out of her way to praise the bravery of good law enforcement officers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL CONFIRMATION HEARING)

LYNCH: I have served with them; I have learned from them; I am a better prosecutor because of them. Few things have pained me more than the recent reports of tension and division between law enforcement and the communities we serve.

JOHNSON: One senator, Republican David Vitter of Louisiana, has already threatened to block Lynch's nomination over the immigration issue. But she appears to have enough support in the committee to advance to the full Senate - a process that could take weeks. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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