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Loretta Lynch’s Prolonged Confirmation Wait Is Unusual, But Not Unprecedented

Loretta Lynch may end up waiting the length of the college basketball season or longer to be confirmed as attorney general by the Senate. Since Nov. 13, Lynch’s nomination has gone from almost assured to floating in no man’s land. Republicans are holding it up for a variety of reasons: They’re protesting President Obama’s executive action on immigration reform, which they accuse her of reflexively supporting, and they want to pressure Democrats to pass a sex-trafficking bill that contains an abortion provision that Democrats oppose. Democrats have complained that Republicans’ actions are unprecedented.

If Lynch is eventually confirmed, it will probably be the second-longest span of time between the Senate receiving a Cabinet-level nomination and confirming the nominee in 38 years.1 At 126 days, Lynch’s current wait is tied for the third-longest. She will soon surpass Gina McCarthy’s 133-day wait in 2013 to become head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lynch, though, is far short of the 176 days it took Richard Holbrooke to be confirmed as U.N. ambassador in 1999. Back then, Senate Republicans wanted to gain concessions from a Democratic president, Bill Clinton. GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa was also trying to use the nomination as a way to assure that whistleblowers at the State Department were protected.

So while it would be untrue to call Lynch’s situation unprecedented, it’s clearly far out of the ordinary. For the 241 Cabinet and Cabinet-level nominees who have been confirmed by the Senate since 1977, the average difference between a nomination being received by the Senate and confirmed is just 23 days. Only eight nominees who were eventually confirmed ever had a gap of greater than 100 days. The majority of nominees had to wait less than two weeks.

Indeed, Lynch would probably be confirmed if her nomination were to actually get a vote. As I have noted, Lynch’s 12-8 victory in the Judiciary Committee suggests that she would win confirmation in front of the whole Senate 92 percent of the time. The question now is whether or not she will ever get that opportunity.


  1. Our data goes back to the Carter administration.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.