WASHINGTON – So close, but no cigar.
After rumors in recent weeks that Labor Secretary Tom Perez was the front-runner for being President Barack Obama's nominee for Attorney General, several media outlets are reporting that Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for Eastern New York, is likely to be named in the next few days.
People with knowledge of his plans publicly are downplaying it, saying that Obama is not ready to announce a nomination and is abandoning the option to push for confirmation this year while Democrats still control the Senate.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that Obama has not made a decision, and the president told inquiring reporters that he'd let them know when he makes a decision. People with knowledge of his thinking say he does not plan to announce a choice before returning from a trip to Asia next week and will leave it up to the Republican-controlled Senate to vote on the choice in 2015.
Lynch would be the first black female to lead the Justice Department if she ends up being the choice. The sources who described Obama's plans did so on condition of anonymity without authorization to speak on the record.
Lynch, 55, would be Obama's second trail-blazing pick for the post after Eric Holder served as the nation's first black attorney general. Lynch is the U.S. attorney for Eastern New York, which covers Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, a position she also held under President Bill Clinton.
Perez, who is 53 and is the son of Dominican immigrants, ran the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division before he became labor secretary last summer. Earlier this month, the New York Times, citing unidentified sources, reported that the front-runner for attorney general apparently was Perez.
But days later, the Associated Press reported that a White House official said that the president had not yet decided who he wants to succeed Holder, a longtime friend and political ally who announced last month he will step down whenever a new attorney general is confirmed.
Last week, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus endorsed Perez for attorney general, and exhorted Obama to nominate him.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján, a Texas Democrat and the first vice chairman of the CHC, said in a statement: “The Congressional Hispanic Caucus proudly endorses Secretary Tom Perez to serve as the next Attorney General of the United States. Throughout a distinguished career that includes Secretary of Labor and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Tom Perez has demonstrated a deep commitment to justice and civil rights. As a dedicated public servant, he has stood up for working families and advocated for the rights of all Americans — especially the most vulnerable.”
Democrats on Capitol Hill have told the White House it would be difficult to win confirmation before they turn over the gavel at the end of the year, especially considering all the other competing priorities they are trying to complete while they are in power.
The White House considered the option of lame duck confirmation, but it didn't make political sense after Republicans won such a clear majority in this week's midterm. Pushing through a nominee so quickly would have tainted the pick with a process argument. It also could have opened the next attorney general to GOP claims of illegitimacy and a hostile oversight committee for the next two years.
It's unusual for Obama to pick someone he doesn't know well for such a sensitive administration post. But at a time when Obama is under political fire, her distance from the president could be an asset in the confirmation process. Another candidate Obama asked to consider the job, former White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler, asked not to be nominated out of concern her close relationship with Obama could lead to difficult confirmation amid partisan politics.
Lynch is seen as having little baggage or controversy as Republicans are promising tough scrutiny after years of battles with the long-serving Holder. The current attorney general is close to Lynch and appointed her as chair of the committee that advises him on policy. Since Lynch is unfamiliar to many on Capitol Hill, senators will have to quickly get up to speed on her record.
One lawmaker in particular is familiar with her work. Lynch filed tax evasion charges against Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican accused of hiding more than $1 million in sales and wages while running a restaurant. Grimm, who won re-election Tuesday, has pleaded not guilty and is set to go to trial in February.
She's overseen bank fraud and other public corruption cases. She also charged reputed mobster Vincent Asaro and his associates for the 36-year-old heist of $6 million in cash and jewelry from a Lufthansa Airlines vault at Kennedy Airport, dramatized in the blockbuster movie "Goodfellas."
During her first tenure in the Eastern District, Lynch helped prosecute police officers who severely beat and sexually assaulted Haitian immigrant Abner Louima with a broken broom handle.
There was no immediate response from Lynch's spokeswoman.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.