WASHINGTON -- Loretta Lynch was confirmed as U.S. attorney general on Thursday after months of GOP delays, making history by becoming the first African-American woman to hold the post.
Lynch was confirmed in the Senate 56 to 43. All Democrats voted for her, along with 10 Republicans: Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas), one of Lynch's loudest critics, was the only senator to miss the vote. Hours earlier, he railed against Lynch for being "unfit" for the job.
"Today, the Senate finally confirmed Loretta Lynch to be America’s next Attorney General – and America will be better off for it," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "Loretta's confirmation ensures that we are better positioned to keep our communities safe, keep our nation secure, and ensure that every American experiences justice under the law."
Republicans who opposed Lynch, who until now was the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, conceded they didn't doubt she was qualified for the job. Instead, they voted against her because of their anger over Obama's recent executive action on immigration, which would provide deportation relief for up to 1.8 million undocumented immigrants. The matter is currently tied up in a lawsuit. Lynch will defend the policy in her new role.
"We are deeply concerned in this country about the president's executive amnesty. The unlawfulness of it, the breadth of it, the arrogance of it to the point that it's a direct assault on congressional power," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). "We do not have to confirm someone to the highest law enforcement position in America if that someone has publicly committed to denigrating Congress."
Obama took the executive action in November after Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He's hardly the first president to use his executive authority on immigration matters. Every U.S. president since 1956 has used executive authority to grant various types of temporary immigration relief.
Ahead of Thursday's vote, Democrats chided Republicans for throwing up so many roadblocks to Lynch's confirmation. She had been waiting for a vote for more than five months, longer than any of her recent predecessors.
Lynch is "an historic nominee," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. By voting against her, he said, Republicans are "making history for the wrong reason."
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) had some more choice words for the GOP.
"This is base politics at its worst," she fumed.
"What my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are saying is, it doesn't matter if you're qualified ... We have a new test: You must disagree with the president who nominates you," McCaskill added. "It is beyond depressing. It's disgusting."
Lynch replaces outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced his resignation in September. Holder agreed to stay on the job until Lynch was confirmed.