Last Thursday was the long-awaited confirmation vote for Loretta Lynch as the new Attorney General of the United States. As two lucky FMF interns, we were able to watch the historic vote from the Senate Gallery.
I think most Americans really don’t understand how accessible the Capitol is. Because we’re from New York, we went to Senator Gillibrand’s (D-NY) office to get senate gallery passes. We didn’t need any special connections or to book months in advance. As private citizens, without even giving our names, we got two passes on the day of the vote. It’s really quite amazing how transparent parts of Congress are.
We entered the senate gallery during the cloture vote, the vote to decide if there would be a vote. Senators would walk in to vote, socialize a little, and then leave. At no point were all 100 senators in the room together. It was very casual: Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) put their arms around each other while talking with John McCain (R-AZ) after they had voted. Other Senators chatted with each other or staff as the senate pages, juniors from a nearby high school, delivered papers around the room and opened doors. The cloture vote passed, which was expected, and slowly the chamber emptied out. Then began the two hour stretch while we waited for the actual confirmation vote.
In that time, 4 or 5 senators spoke, some about Loretta Lynch, others about current events issues they felt strongly about. Senator Schumer (D-NY) delivered an eloquent speech on the floor in favor of Loretta Lynch. He was the one who suggested her to the President as a candidate for Attorney General, first in 1999, and now in 2015. Senator Schumer remembered aloud about when he called Attorney General Lynch about this nomination. She said, “I’ve been dreading this call.” As Senator Schumer explained, Lynch was in a job she liked, making good money, and happily married. Becoming Attorney General would be complicating her already very happy life. But, as Senator Schumer predicted, her will to serve was too strong to say no. He called her on a Friday and on that Monday, she called him back and said she would be honored.
Then of course came the official nomination and the five month delay on her confirmation vote because of an unrelated human trafficking bill. Multiple Senators addressed the delay in speeches, saying it was inexcusable.
The actual vote followed the same format as the cloture, with senators coming in, voting, socializing, and leaving. (Senator Marco Rubio came in a little before the vote, and stood at the side of the chamber. When the vote officially began, he was one of the first to signal his “no” vote, before briskly walking out.) In the end, Lynch was confirmed by 56 votes. Although the gallery had been reminded at least three times that no noises were allowed, a sea of cheers erupted when the vote was announced. After a few moments, the senate floor called for order and the majority and minority leaders both spoke briefly.
Leaving the chamber was truly inspiring. The line to enter the chamber stretched all the way to the elevator. It was filled with primarily African-American women who were smiling and happily high-fiving everyone walking out of the chamber. “We did it!” “Let’s hear it for the women!”
It was a herstoric day, and walking out of the gallery truly felt like it.