Loretta Lynch wins confirmation as attorney general

Loretta Lynch (Finally) Confirmed as Attorney General

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Loretta Lynch won confirmation as the nation's first black woman attorney general Thursday from a Senate that forced her to wait more than five months for the title and remained divided to the end.

The 56-43 vote installs Lynch, now U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, at the Justice Department to replace Eric Holder. Holder has served in the job throughout the Obama administration, becoming a lightning rod for conservatives who perceived him as overly political and liberal, and even getting held in contempt of Congress.

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Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch
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Loretta Lynch wins confirmation as attorney general
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 20: Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks at the New York Historical Society on June 20, 2017 in New York City. Lynch, who served under President Obama, received the Women in Public Life Award at the society's annual luncheon for the Strawberry festival. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch holds a news conference in Washington. U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Barack Obama talks to the media during a meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch (L) and FBI Director James Comey (not photographed) at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney general, speaks during a keynote session at the RSA Conference 2016 in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. Lynch challenged Apple Inc.'s refusal to comply with a judge's order that it help unlock a dead terrorist's iPhone, bluntly questioning the company's insistence that it has the right to refuse to cooperate. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Attorney General Loretta Lynch attends the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture September 24, 2016 in Washington, DC, before the museum opens to the public later that day. The museum is a Smithsonian Institution museum located on the National Mall featuring African American history and culture in the US. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)
ROME, ITALY - OCTOBER 20: Loretta Lynch and Meryl Streep attend a party honouring Meryl Streep on October 20, 2016 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch appears on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
STERLING, VA - DECEMBER 12: U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch poses for a group photo with members of All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center's BEAT Choir during an event December 12, 2016 in Sterling, Virginia. Lynch spoke to religious leaders and community members about the Department of Justice's efforts to combat hate crimes. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Loretta Lynch smiles before being sworn in as the 83rd Attorney General of the U.S. at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, April 27, 2015. Lynch was confirmed by the Senate on April 23 as the first black woman to become U.S. attorney general after a five-month wait marked by partisan fights and Republican arguments that she won't be independent enough from President Barack Obama. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks at the podium as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel looks on at a news conference at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Jan. 13, 2017 in Chicago. A damning U.S. Department of Justice report released Friday morning excoriates the Chicago Police Department for using excessive force and unfairly targeting minorities while providing shoddy training and little effective supervision or discipline. (Jose Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Loretta Lynch shakes hands with Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (L) after being sworn in as Attorney General during an event at the Justice Department April 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. Lynch is the 83rd Attorney General and is replacing Eric Holder. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
STERLING, VA - DECEMBER 12: U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch (L) is greeted by director of All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center's BEAT Choir Hurunnessa Fariad (R) during an event December 12, 2016 in Sterling, Virginia. Lynch spoke to religious leaders and community members about the Department of Justice's efforts to combat hate crimes. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US Vice-President Joe Biden delivers remarks prior to swearing-in Loretta E. Lynch as the 83rd Attorney General of the United States April 27, 2015 at the US Department of Justice in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: US Vice President Joe Biden (L) swears in Loretta Lynch (R) as Attorney General as her husband Stephen Hargrove (2R) and father Lorenzo Lynch (2L) stand nearby during an event at the Justice Department April 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. Lynch is the 83rd Attorney General and is replacing Eric Holder. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29: Character witnesses for Loretta Lynch raise their right hands as they are sworn in during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing January 29, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. If confirmed by the full Senate Ms. Lynch will succeed Eric Holder as the next U.S. Attorney General. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Loretta Lynch speaks after being sworn in as Attorney General as a portrait of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy hangs on the wall neaby at the Justice Department April 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. Lynch is the 83rd attorney general and is replacing Eric Holder. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: U.S. attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch appears for her confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on January 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew Harnik for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 28: U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, left, shakes hands with chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, right, as ranking member Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., look on during her confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch arrives for the dedication of the Smithsonianâs National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch testifies during her confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on January 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew Harnik for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28: Loretta Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, speaks at a press conference to announce a 20-count indictment against U.S. Representative Michael Grimm (R-NY, 11th District) on April 28, 2014 in New York City. Grimm's indictments include wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiring to defraud the United States, impeding the Internal Revenue Service, hiring and employing unauthorized aliens, and health care fraud. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Loretta Lynch listens during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee January 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. Loretta Lynch, a prosecutor with the US Attorney Eastern District of New York, has been nominated to serve as US Attorney General. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Committee chairman Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) (L) and ranking member Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) talk while Loretta Lynch speaks during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee January 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. Loretta Lynch, a prosecutor with the US Attorney Eastern District of New York, has been nominated to serve as US Attorney General. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch leaves her for a break during her confirmation hearing before Senate Judiciary Committee January 28, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. If confirmed by the full Senate Ms. Lynch will succeed Eric Holder as the next U.S. Attorney General. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Loretta Lynch listens to questions during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee January 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. Loretta Lynch, a prosecutor with the US Attorney Eastern District of New York, has been nominated to serve as US Attorney General. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: Lorenzo Lynch (2nd L), father of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch (L), raises his hand as he is being introduced during a confirmation hearing before Senate Judiciary Committee January 28, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Lynch will succeed Eric Holder to be the next U.S. Attorney General if confirmed by the Senate. Stephen Hargrove, husband of Loretta Lynch is on the right. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee January 28, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. If confirmed by the full Senate Ms. Lynch will succeed Eric Holder as the next U.S. Attorney General. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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Lynch, 55, is seen as a no-nonsense prosecutor, and has wide law enforcement support. The issue that tore into her support with Republicans was immigration, and her refusal to denounce President Barack Obama's executive actions limiting deportations for millions of people living illegally in this country. Questioned on the issue at her confirmation hearing in January, she said she believed Obama's actions were reasonable and lawful.

Democrats angrily criticized Republicans for using the issue against her, saying an executive branch nominee could not be expected to disagree strongly with the president who appointed her, but Republicans were unapologetic.

Announced GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Lynch's comments rendered her "unsuitable for confirmation as attorney general of the United States. That was a shame."

Yet after returning from the campaign trail to rail against Lynch on the Senate floor Thursday, Cruz was the only senator absent when the vote was called. He voted "no" on a procedural vote earlier in the day, which spokeswoman Amanda Carpenter insisted "was the vote that mattered." She did not explain why Cruz missed the confirmation vote, but an invitation on his campaign website showed he had a fundraiser in Dallas to attend.

Still, Lynch won the support of 10 Republicans, more than expected in the days heading into the vote. In a surprise, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was among those voting "yes."

From the White House, Obama hailed her confirmation.

"Loretta has spent her life fighting for the fair and equal justice that is the foundation of our democracy," he said. "She will bring to bear her experience as a tough, independent and well-respected prosecutor on key, bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform."

Lynch grew up in Durham, North Carolina, the daughter of an English teacher and a minister. Her father, Lorenzo Lynch, 83, watched from the Senate visitors' gallery Thursday as his daughter won confirmation.

Afterward, he told reporters: "The good guys won. And that's what's been happening in this country all along, even during slavery."

The long delay in confirming Lynch since she was nominated in November incensed Democrats, with Obama himself weighing in last week to lament Senate dysfunction and decry the wait as "crazy" and "embarrassing." There were various reasons for the delay, most recently a lengthy and unexpected impasse over abortion on an unrelated bill to combat sex trafficking that McConnell insisted on finishing before moving to Lynch.

Yet Democrats controlled the Senate when Lynch was nominated last November and could have brought up her nomination for a vote then. They held off with the GOP's encouragement after being routed in the midterm elections and spent the time confirming judges instead.

There was an expectation that Republican leaders would move Lynch's nomination swiftly this year, especially since many GOP members of Congress are eager to be rid of Holder. Instead, the nomination became tangled in the dispute over Obama's executive actions on immigration, and seemed to stall.

There was never any real doubt that she would win confirmation in the end, but going into the vote only five Republicans had declared their support. In addition to McConnell, the Republicans who ended up voting "yes" were Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Ayotte, Portman, Johnson and Kirk all face voters next year.

In a statement, McConnell said Holder's Justice Department "has too often put partisan and ideological considerations ahead of the rule of law. It is a department desperately in need of new direction and leadership. I am hopeful that Ms. Lynch will use her lengthy professional experience and skills to provide the new leadership, reform and improved relations with the Congress."

In floor debate ahead of the vote, Democrats lambasted Republicans for opposing Lynch on immigration.

"What my colleagues are saying today is it doesn't matter if you are qualified ... that makes no difference. We have a new test. You must disagree with the president who nominates you," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "This defies common sense."

Yet in the end even the Senate's hardliners on immigration refrained from trying to drag out the final vote into Friday.

Lynch has been the top prosecutor since 2010 for a district that includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, a role she also held from 1999 to 2001. She'll take over a Justice Department focused on fighting terrorism and cyberattacks, and consumed in a national debate over law enforcement's treatment of black men.

Earlier on AOL.com:

Loretta Lynch Gets Her Day

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