Update 5:05 p.m. | Even before Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s resignation was officially announced, House and Senate lawmakers were sending out statements reacting to the news.
The sentiments broke down neatly along party lines, with Republicans openly cheering an end to Holder’s six years atop the Justice Department and Democrats just as enthusiastically expressing appreciation for the nation’s first black attorney general.
The statements signaled just how polarizing Holder has become on Capitol Hill.
For many GOP lawmakers who had clashed with Holder, it was simply a matter of good riddance.
“I can’t think of any AG in history who has attacked Louisiana more than Holder,” said Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who was first out with a release headed, “Vitter Welcomes News of Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., proclaimed, “Eric Holder is the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history and, in a vote supported by 17 Democratic House Members, has the dubious historic distinction of being the first Attorney General held in criminal contempt by the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who has famously sparred with Holder during hearings and once told him not to “cast aspersions on my asparagus ,” unloaded on Holder on Thursday.
“Not only has he lied before Members of Congress, … he has obfuscated the truth and been the most partisan, partial, prejudiced and self-pitying Attorney General in my lifetime,” said Gohmert. “As a former judge who has questioned Holder numerous times before the House Judiciary Committee, it is frustrating to seek the truth and receive dishonesty and arrogance from the chief law enforcement officer of the United States government.”
House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., also piled on:
“I welcome the news that Eric Holder will step down as Attorney General. From Operation Fast and Furious to his misleading testimony before the House Judiciary Committee regarding the Department’s dealings with members of the media and his refusal to appoint a special counsel to investigate the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups, Mr. Holder has consistently played partisan politics with many of the important issues facing the Justice Department.”
So did Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who, in addition to calling Holder “the most partisan attorney general in our history,” argued that the Senate should not vote to confirm a replacement until the start of the 114th Congress. Implicit in the statement was a belief that Republicans will win control of the chamber in November:
“To ensure that justice is served and that the Attorney General is not simply replaced with another extreme partisan who will likewise disregard the law, the Senate should wait until the new Congress is sworn in before confirming the next Attorney General. Allowing Democratic senators, many of whom will likely have just been defeated at the polls, to confirm Holder’s successor would be an abuse of power that should not be countenanced.”
Current Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., told MSNBC there’s already a shortlist, and said he “hope[d] nobody would try to block an up or down vote on the chief law enforcement officer of the country.”
Assuming the confirmation vote takes place during the lame duck or that Democrats maintain power in the Senate in the next Congress, confirmation should be relatively straight forward: Democrats last November used the so-called nuclear option to lower the threshold for ending debate on most nominations to a simple majority. That change likely influenced Holder’s decision to step down, knowing that he could be replaced without obstruction.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he hoped President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed Holder would not divide the chamber:
“The nation deserves an Attorney General whose loyalty to the justice system will trump loyalty to a political party, and I hope the President will nominate someone who will uphold the basic standards of honesty, transparency, and accountability that have been so glaringly absent in this Justice Department,” he said.
But while Republicans were dismissive, Holder’s Democratic allies on the Hill were effusive in their praise of the attorney general.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights icon who was almost beaten to death during a march for voting rights in the 1960s, said that Holder “has been a persistent and consistent leader in the struggle for civil and human rights.
“That legacy is in his bones,” Lewis continued. “It is written on his heart, and his intelligence and committed leadership will be hard to replace.”
“As the first-ever African American to serve in this position, Attorney General Holder has promoted equal protection under the law by building bridges across ideology, race, gender, and class,” Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., said.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who had been observing the Jewish New Year at temple for most of Thursday, released a statement praising Holder for his “strong advocacy for voting rights” after the Supreme Court last year rolled back a key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“As nefarious forces tried to turn back the hard-one right to vote, Holder was ‘Horatius at the Bridge’ in many cases, preventing or slowing down their regressive march to take away people’s hard-earned rights,” Schumer said.
Update 5:05 p.m. | After Obama officially announced Holder’s resignation, plenty more congressional offices hit send on their press releases regarding the news.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he couldn’t support Holder’s nomination in 2009 “because of the many questionable decisions he’d made as Deputy Attorney General.”
“Five years later, I’m confident in the wisdom of that decision,” McConnell said in his statement. “Holder has placed ideological commitments over a commitment to the rule of law. These are not the qualities the American people look for in the nation’s highest law-enforcement official. So I will be scrutinizing the President’s replacement nominee to ensure the Justice Department finally returns to prioritizing law enforcement over partisan concerns.”
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., issued a statement that said Holder’s tenure as Attorney General was defined by “a lack of respect for the rule of law and the further erosion of the public’s trust in President Obama’s administration.”
“Attorney General Holder engaged in political activism and abused the power of his office,” Scalise continued. “I urge President Obama to take this opportunity of Holder’s resignation to restore fairness and accountability to his administration by nominating someone who will carry out the responsibilities of this important office in a fair and impartial manner.”
Meanwhile, other top Democrats were defending the controversial attorney general.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., lauded Holder’s tenure as attorney general and called on Republicans to allow for a quick confirmation of his successor.
“Eric Holder has served the American people with distinction. As a prosecutor, advocate for civil rights and the first African-American Attorney General, he has championed issues of social justice, greater equality for communities of color and the LGBT community and defended the right of every American to vote,” Reid said. “One of his lasting legacies at the Department of Justice will be his determined effort to address issues affecting the civil rights of all Americans. He has been dedicated in his service to our country and I wish him well.”
“It is my hope that my Republican colleagues will work with Senate Democrats to give swift and fair consideration to President Obama’s next nominee for this important position,” Reid added.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Holder had worked hard “each and every day” to ensure that, “in America, ‘equal justice under law’ is not a privilege for the few, but a right that belongs to all.”
“Attorney General Holder has been a true blessing to our nation,” Pelosi said. “On the most pressing challenges facing our country – protecting voting rights, combating terrorism, addressing sentencing disparities, reducing the federal prison population, ending the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act – Eric Holder led with integrity and served with dignity.”
Pelosi also said Holder’s leadership throughout the events in Ferguson, Missouri, had honored “the finest traditions of our nation’s unending pursuit of a more perfect union.”
The House Minority Whip, Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, said he joined in thanking Holder for serving the nation “with honor and distinction” over the past six years.
“He has worked diligently,” Hoyer said, “to keep our nation safe from foreign and domestic threats while protecting our civil liberties; bring justice to those who do us harm; hold accountable companies that have committed wrongdoing; recognize and protect the legal rights of same-sex spouses; and defend the due process rights of every individual charged with a crime.”
“Attorney General Holder has been a voice of reason and represents public service at its best,” Hoyer continued. “I am proud to call him my friend. His devoted service to our nation and the Constitution has left his office better than when he assumed it.”
And Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., also poured on the praise, touting Holder as a valuable ally for Illinois and the nation.
“Under Attorney General Holder’s leadership, the Justice Department has demonstrated that our criminal justice system is our most powerful tool for combatting terrorism, collecting important intelligence and incapacitating terrorists while respecting the rule of law,” Durbin said. “The Attorney General also has revitalized the Justice Department’s critical role in protecting the civil and human rights of all Americans, spearheading efforts to prevent discrimination at the ballot box and to reform our outdated sentencing policies for nonviolent drug offenses.”
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