WASHINGTON - Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned Sunday that he won't hold a confirmation vote for Loretta Lynch as attorney general before the Senate completes work on a bill designed to curb human trafficking.
The Kentucky Republican's comments prompted immediate protests from Democratic lawmakers who view her confirmation as a top priority.
McConnell had said he would be moving to the Lynch nomination this coming week. But then last week's debate on a human-trafficking bill broke down over a dispute about a provision regarding funding for abortions. Democrats made a late objection to a provision that prohibits money dedicated to a fund for victims from being used to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the woman were in jeopardy.
Similar restrictions on the use of federal funds have been in place for three decades. But abortion-rights supporters said the legislation takes the restrictions a step further by applying them to the personal money convicted sex traffickers pay into a government fund.
Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), said the provision should be taken out to ensure passage of a bill that otherwise has broad bipartisan support, Bloomberg News reported.
McConnell said Sunday during an interview on CNN that Democrats had voted for the very same language three months ago. He said the Senate is soon scheduled to turn to the budget and then to be on recess for two weeks, so there is only a limited window of time for the Lynch vote.
"If they want to have time to turn to the attorney general bill next week, we need to finish up this human-trafficking bill," McConnell said.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D., N.Y.) said Republicans are using any excuse they can to stall the nomination. At a time when terrorist groups are threatening the U.S., the nominee deserves a vote, he said.
"It's time for Republicans to stop dragging their feet on Loretta Lynch," Schumer said.
Lynch would be the first black woman to serve as the nation's top law enforcement officer. She would succeed Eric H. Holder Jr., who is staying on until a replacement is confirmed.