Seeking to reassure a Congress fed up with her predecessor, Loretta Lynch will promised to use the Constitution as her "lodestar" if she is confirmed as attorney general.
Lynch began testifying Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday in the first day of her confirmation hearings for the new post. President Obama nominated Lynch, a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, to succeed Eric Holder at the head of the Justice Department (DOJ) after Holder announced his resignation in September.
"If confirmed as Attorney General I pledge to you and to the American people that the Constitution, the bedrock of our system of justice, will be my lodestar as I exercise the power and responsibility of that position," she said.
One of her chief challenges will be the residual frustration from the contentious relationship Holder had with Congress. Lynch is seeking to establish herself as a fresh face. When the chairman of the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, delivered his own opening remarks, he drew attention to the underlying controversy.
"There are challenges facing the Department of Justice that go to the heart of our system of government," Grassley said. "How about restoring faith in bedrock principles like respect for the rule of law, and the fair and evenhanded application of those laws? How about restoring respect for the co-equal branches of government? How about taking care that the law is faithfully executed, and not rewriting it?"
He mentioned several scandals that involved the DOJ in recent years, including the Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal in which a border patrol agent was murdered and the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups which spawned a DOJ investigation. Those issues will be the focus of a panel of witnesses at a hearing tomorrow.
Lynch acknowledged the rocky relationship, saying, "I look forward to fostering a new and improved relationship with this Committee, the United States Senate, and the entire United States Congress - a relationship based on mutual respect and Constitutional balance." She repeated several times her desire to discuss issues and seek input from with members of the committee.
She also spent a large portion of the hearing facing questions from Republican senators designed to gauge whether she supports the president's recent move to defer deportation for up to five million illegal immigrants. Lynch said she has read the DOJ memo which said Mr. Obama was acting within the bounds of the law.
"I don't see any reason to doubt the reasonableness of those views," she said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., sought to head off any Republicans who might vote "no" on Lynch's confirmation as a protest against the president himself during his opening remarks.
"The president's immigration policies are not seeking confirmation today," Schumer said. "Loretta Lynch is."
Republican's questions probed her views on issues such as the limits of prosecutorial discretion, a term that refers to an agency like the Department of Homeland Security exercising its judgment on which deportations to pursue most aggressively, to whether she believes U.S. citizens are more entitled to employment than immigrants.
Lynch's opening remarks highlighted fighting cyber crime and healing the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities as two top priorities.
She said she plans to enhance the capabilities of the DOJ to fight and prosecute cyber crime, noting her work on the issue in her current position as U.S. Attorney.
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On police-community relations - an issue also important to Holder - Lynch said she has served with and learned from law enforcement officers and agents, and that she is "a better prosecutor because of them."
"Few things have pained me more than the recent reports of tension and division between law enforcement and the communities we serve. If confirmed as Attorney General, one of my key priorities would be to work to strengthen the vital relationships between our courageous law enforcement personnel and all the communities we serve," she will say, pledging to "draw all voices" into the discussion.
She also delved into her personal biography during her opening remarks, referring to her mother Lorine's career as an English teacher and librarian who valued education.
"As a young woman she refused to use segregated restrooms because they did not represent the America in which she believed," Lynch said. Her father, Lorenzo, a Baptist preacher, "opened his Greensboro church to those planning sit-ins and marches, standing with them while carrying me on his shoulders. He has always matched his principles with action - encouraging me to think for myself, but reminding me that we all gain the most when we act in service to others," she said.
"As I come before you today in this historic chamber, I still stand on my father's shoulders, as well as on the shoulders of all those who have gone before me and who dreamed of making the promise of America a reality for all and worked to achieve that goal. I believe in the promise of America because I have lived the promise of America," Lynch said.
Ahead of her confirmation, Lynch met personally with over half of all sitting senators, including each member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she testifies Wednesday and Thursday.