A Senate Democratic leader seemed to imply on Wednesday that Republicans are delaying a confirmation vote on Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch because she's black.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) noted that Lynch is the first black woman to be nominated as attorney general, but said she is being "asked to sit in the back of the bus," a reference to the Jim Crow laws that forced segregation between blacks and whites decades ago.
"And so, Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman nominated to be attorney general, is asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar," Durbin said. "That is unfair. It's unjust. It is beneath the decorum and dignity of the United States Senate."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could be seen nudging a Senate staffer in approval just after Durbin delivered the line, a sign that he approved of the attempt to interject the issue of race into the debate.
Durbin's comments are the latest example of Democratic frustration with the slow pace Republicans have taken in the Senate to move Lynch's nomination ahead. Several Democrats have already accused the GOP of slow-walking Lynch because she's a woman, and others have hinted the delays could be related to the fact that she's black.
Republicans have rejected these assertions, and have said the delay is mostly related to the agreement last December — which Democrats supported — to consider her this year. A combination of getting the new Judiciary Committee settled, snow days, and waiting on Lynch to answer questions from GOP members has slowed the process somewhat.
This week, Republicans have said Lynch will be further delayed until enough Senate Democrats agree to advance a bill aimed at helping the victims of human trafficking. Most Democrats oppose language in that bill that says a fund to help these victims can't be used for abortion, although Republicans say that's consistent with decades of federal spending bills and was known to be in the bill when more than a dozen Democrats cosponsored it.
Nonetheless, Democrats blocked the bill from moving on Tuesday, and the Senate will try again Wednesday morning.
"It's hard to believe what we saw yesterday — Democrats actually filibustering a bill to help victims of modern slavery, apparently because left-wing lobbyists told them to," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday.
Reid asked Republicans to move right to the Lynch vote, and argued that Democrats would be willing to return to the trafficking bill after that. "The United States Senate can do two things at the same time," he said.
But on Tuesday, Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) indicated that Republicans would not agree to that deal. He said the Senate would keep holding these votes on the trafficking bill until six Democrats join Republicans, a decision that has the potential to put Lynch's nomination on hold for several more weeks.
"I am grateful to the majority leader, the senator from Kentucky, for saying that we are going to come back and vote again and again and again on this human trafficking bill until it passes," Cornyn said. "He is not going to schedule the nomination confirmation vote on the next attorney general until such time as we get this passed."
On Tuesday, four Democrats voted with Republicans, and just two more are needed to get the 60 votes needed to advance the trafficking bill. Democrats who voted with Republicans were Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), and Joe Manchin (W.Va.).