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January 28, 2015

Attorney General nominee facing tough Senate hearing

Lynch will likely be grilled on hot button issues

WASHINGTON  - U.S. President Barack Obama's pick for his next attorney general faces a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday that will likely highlight tensions between the Obama administration and the new Republican Congress. 

Loretta Lynch, nominated in November, has stirred little controversy in her 16 years with the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn and is expected to win confirmation.   

But she is likely to face hours of grilling from the Senate Judiciary Committee on hot button issues including immigration, guns, civil rights, national security, and her relationship with congressional Republicans, who frequently clashed with Attorney General Eric Holder, an unapologetic liberal voice and one of Obama's closest allies.

In opening remarks, Lynch will say she wants to move past Holder's congressional fights. "I look forward to fostering a new and improved relationship," she will say, according to remark excerpts.   

Some Republicans have threatened to use the nomination process as a battleground to defy Obama's November immigration order, which eased the threat of deportation for some 5 million undocumented immigrants.

Chuck Grassley, who chairs the committee, has said he plans to keep the hearing going until lawmakers ask all their questions. 

"There are obviously ongoing disputes between the administration and particular senators, and the nominee becomes the vehicle by which those disputes are aired," said Ronald Weich, a former top Justice Department official on legislative affairs who is now dean at the University of Baltimore's law school. 

Lynch, 55, would be the first black woman to lead the department, coming to the post amid tensions between black communities and law enforcement after grand juries failed to indict two white police officers who killed unarmed black men in separate incidents in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City.

Lynch is expected to say one of her top priorities will be to strengthen the relationship between the two. "Few things have pained me more than the recent reports of tension and division between law enforcement and the communities we serve," she will say.  

She will also say she would like to "expand and enhance" the department's ability to prosecute cybercrimes.  

Lynch has built a reputation as a diligent prosecutor who avoids the spotlight, bringing big cases against terrorists and global banks, and dealing with more mundane issues on an Attorney General's advisory committee such as phone trees and the use of toner at U.S. Attorney's offices.

"She's an impressive prosecutor, a U.S. attorney and professional," Senator John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said on Tuesday. "For me, anything that would expedite Eric Holder's retirement is a good thing."