WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama blasted the Senate Friday for stalling on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the next attorney general, the longest wait for a nominee to lead the Justice Department in three decades.
“Enough. Enough. Call Loretta Lynch for a vote, get her confirmed, let her do her job. This is embarrassing,” Obama told reporters during a joint White House press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
“There are times where the dysfunction in the Senate just goes too far,” the president added. “This is an example of it.”
If confirmed, Lynch would be the first African-American woman to lead the Justice Department. It has been 160 days since Obama nominated her on Nov. 8, and the delay in her confirmation is the longest since Ronald Reagan tapped Edwin Meese for the post in 1984.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is holding up Lynch’s nomination as leverage to push Democrats to drop a filibuster on an unrelated anti-human trafficking bill. Democrats object to that measure because it contains an abortion provision. McConnell has said he won’t bring up Lynch for a vote until the dispute is resolved.
Obama called on Congress to move her nomination forward, saying that no one could articulate a reason beyond political gamesmanship as to why she has not been confirmed.
The moment was a particularly politically charged one during a press conference largely focused on international trade and the Iranian nuclear agreement.
Republicans in the Senate have yet to offer a timeline as to a possible vote on Lynch’s confirmation, and Eric Holder continues to serve as attorney general.
McConnell’s office insisted Friday that the majority leader is working to resolve Lynch’s nomination.
“The leader has already announced that the Lynch nomination will get a vote,” McConnell’s Deputy Chief of Staff Don Stewart told CNN. “Members are continuing to work to find a way to overcome the Democrats’ filibuster of a bipartisan bill that will help prevent women and children from being sold into sex slavery. Once that bill’s complete, the Lynch nomination is next.”
Both Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate maintain they are working towards a resolution on the sex-trafficking bill.
McConnell said Thursday that bipartisan negotiations on an unrelated bill that have tied up the chamber “continue to make progress” and he hopes to pass the bill “early next week.”
Minority Leader Harry Reid appeared to share McConnell’s optimism Thursday.
“Ms. Lynch’s nomination will not remain in purgatory forever,” Reid said.
But for all the optimism, the Senate wrapped up its business for the week Thursday without tackling Lynch’s nomination.
Some Republicans in the House have defended the delay. Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, a member of the Republican Study Committee, said that while he believes Lynch will eventually get a vote, the vetting process must be as thorough as possible.
“I certainly think they ought to have a right to actually examine her positions, her views. You know, the attorney general’s office — which used to be an independent office that actually enforced the law — no longer is that,” he told CNN on Friday. “So I actually think there are reasonable questions on both sides of the aisle about how the new attorney general will handle [issues].”
CNN’s Dana Bash, Athena Jones and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.