WASHINGTON — Key Republicans heaped praise on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch Thursday and one senior lawmaker announced his outright endorsement, setting the stage for Lynch's confirmation as the first black woman in the nation's top law enforcement job.
"I believe she's not only qualified but exceptionally well-qualified and a very good person, to boot," Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, declared from the dais on the second day of Lynch's confirmation hearing to replace Eric Holder.
"Throughout her confirmation hearing, Ms. Lynch has demonstrated her qualifications and made specific commitments to work with Congress," Hatch said. "I plan to support her nomination and will seek to help ensure that she upholds her commitments to enforce the law."
Two other committee Republicans, Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona, also said they were likely to support her.
That would provide Lynch the three Republican votes she needs to win approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee in coming weeks. From there, her nomination would move to the full Senate, where she also is likely to win approval.
Lynch, 55, the top federal prosecutor since 2010 for parts of New York City and Long Island, promised senators a fresh start from Holder, who has clashed repeatedly with congressional Republicans during his six years in the job. Republicans deride him as a liberal firebrand and cheerleader for President Barack Obama, and can barely wait to be rid of him.
That accounted in part for the swell of GOP support for Lynch after a daylong confirmation hearing Wednesday where she calmly pledged independence from Obama and promised to work with the Republican-led Congress.
"If confirmed as attorney general, I would be myself. I would be Loretta Lynch," she said, when asked how senators could be assured that she would lead differently.
Lynch did not appear Thursday at the second and final day of her confirmation hearing, which instead featured testimony from outside witnesses, several of whom were summoned by Republicans to amplify their criticism of Obama and Holder.
On Wednesday, Lynch aligned herself with Holder on certain policy decisions, agreeing with his assertions that interrogation by waterboarding is torture and illegal, that civilian courts are an appropriate venue to prosecute suspected terrorists captured overseas, and that the department's limited resources are best reserved for prosecuting violent offenders. She offered support for some controversial Obama administration policies, including the president's unilateral protections for millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
But on other points, she also struck a firmer law-and-order stance, announcing without hesitation her support for the death penalty — a change in tone from Holder.
Several of the more conservative committee members were frustrated as they tried to draw her into criticism of Obama or Holder.
"Try as I might, there has been nothing I have been able to ask you that has yielded any answer suggesting any limitations whatsoever on the authority of the president," said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Lynch disagreed with that characterization, saying the American people, and not the president, would be "my client and my first thought
"The question for me and a lot of members on this side is whether Ms. Lynch is committed to leading the Department of Justice in a new direction," said the Judiciary Committee chairman, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.