The Senate continues its debate on a human trafficking bill, which would have been smooth sailing through Congress if it wasn't for a provision blocking non-taxpayer funding from being used on abortion procedures for trafficking victims. The prolonged debate has unfortunately blocked the Senate from confirming Loretta Lynch's nomination to attorney general. Now, President Obama is stepping into the Senate's petty politics, urging Senate Republicans to make nice with the Democrats and move forward with Lynch's historic confirmation.
Obama finally took on the gridlock in the Senate in his weekly address on Saturday. "It has been more than four months since I nominated Loretta Lynch to serve as the next attorney general of the United States," Obama said.
Obama praised Lynch and outlined her storied accomplishments. "In short, her qualifications are superb," the president said.
He also acknowledged that in the past, the Senate had no problem confirming Lynch for previous high-ranking positions. "Not once," Obama said. "But twice."
The president continued to express his disappointment in the blocking of Lynch's confirmation — a ploy that many have seen has a double standard. If Lynch ever does get approval by the Senate, she would be the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. attorney general:
This time, Republican leaders in Congress won't even let her nomination come up for a vote. In fact, by Monday, Loretta would have been languishing on the Senate floor for longer than the seven previous attorneys general combined. ... No one can claim she's unqualified. No one's saying she can't do the job. ... This is purely about politics. First, Republicans held up her nomination because they were upset about the actions I took to make our broken immigration system smarter and fairer. Now they're denying her a vote until they can figure out how to pass a bill on a completely unrelated issue.
"Congress should stop playing politics with law enforcement and national security," the president continued. "That means they should end the longest confirmation process for attorney general in three decades, and give Loretta Lynch a vote."
At this point, Lynch may not even receive a vote on her confirmation until after the Easter recess. McConnell has so far remained firm in his plan to pass a human trafficking bill with the controversial anti-abortion provision before taking up Lynch's confirmation for a vote. However, Democrats have been fighting for a clean human trafficking bill that won't deny victims, many of whom are young and impoverished, funding for abortion if they need it.
Over the last week, the Senate floor has turned into a debate over which party is holding Lynch's confirmation hostage as much as it has been about access to abortion. During a Senate floor debate this week, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) accused the Republicans of making Lynch "sit at the back of the bus."
Meanwhile, the Republicans continue to play hardball. When asked by a Politico reporter this week how much pressure the Senate Republicans are facing right now, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) replied, "Zero."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican who currently serves as president pro tempore of the Senate, added to Politico that it's the Democrats playing politics — this time over abortion rights — and not the Republicans. "He [McConnell] sees them playing a pure political ploy to satisfy Planned Parenthood and NARAL and abortion rights activists," Hatch said. "And he can’t let them get away with that."
Yet the Democrats are continuing to fight for a clean human trafficking bill, which they say was turned into an anti-abortion statement by Senate Republicans without their knowledge. The House version of the bill did not include the anti-abortion provision, which would apply the limitations of the Hyde Amendment to a victims' fund created by fines collected from convicted traffickers. Historically, Hyde only applied to taxpayer money, and the victims' fund is neither taxpayer nor federally appropriated funds.
Senate Democrats, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, have been very vocal about this, saying this expands the Hyde Amendment to fines and fees — and restitution for trafficking victims — that have no relation to taxpayers. Leahy, as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), also argued on the Senate floor this week that human trafficking victims likely won't be able to receive Medicaid for abortions under the rape exemption — nor should these victims be forced to "prove" their rapes, the senators said.
"Let's listen to the victims," Leahy told his colleagues.
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