J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Republican Undecideds Feel Last-Minute Pressure on Lynch Vote

Groups on both sides of the attorney general fight want waffling GOP senators to pick a side.

With Loretta Lynch finally set for a Senate floor vote Thursday to be the next Attorney General, undecided Republicans are facing increased pressure from constituents and outside groups to pick a side.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina was visited earlier in the day by dozens of members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, an intercollegiate black fraternity, who urged him to support Lynch. The Republican said he's been lobbied heavily, on both sides of the issue, but is still reviewing transcripts of Lynch's hearing before making a final decision.

"We are literally just printing out the documents so I can read through some of the things she said in the hearings just to kind of solidify a position," Scott said.

Those hearings happened back in January, when Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley predicted Lynch would be confirmed if not by the end of the month, then in early February. But after Republicans failed to strike down President Obama's late 2014 executive action on immigration earlier this year, Lynch has been left waiting. When Democrats threatened to kill a human trafficking bill over abortion restrictions Republicans favored, her nomination was pushed back even further.

But with a deal on the trafficking bill announced this week, and final passage secured Wednesday, Lynch (and departing Attorney General Eric Holder) finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Thursday's vote, which Republican leaders have been forecasting for a week, reinvigorated outside groups and individual constituents to amp up the pressure on their members. Conservative groups don't want senators to endorse a nominee who plans to continue Obama's policies, while liberal groups are pushing for the confirmation of the first African American female attorney general.

Scott wasn't the only one to earn a visit from Alpha Phi Alpha on Wednesday. The group organized a march on Capitol Hill in the morning that they called "#BrothersForLorettaLynch," that included Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio and former CNN contributor Roland Martin. Following the march, fraternity brothers also visited the offices of Sen. Thad Cochran and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, neither of whom has announced how he'll vote on the nomination.

Cochran said after the visit Wednesday that he had yet to make up his mind about Lynch's nomination. When asked if he'd been lobbied heavily in the past few weeks, Cochran said, "I'm sure I have," but didn't elaborate.

Cochran, Scott, and McConnell are among just 15 members of the Senate who have yet to say publicly how they'll vote on the Lynch nomination, which the Senate will take up Thursday afternoon.

Also on the list are Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Rob Portman of Ohio, all of whom are potentially vulnerable candidates for reelection next year. Scott also is facing reelection in South Carolina next year, after winning his seat by a 24-point margin in 2014.

Murkowski's and Scott's offices said they've received a higher-than-usual number of phone calls for and against the Lynch nomination in recent days. Many of those phone calls are coming from concerned constituents, rather than an organized campaign, a Murkowski aide said. So far, the Alaskan has not gotten the in-person treatment Scott received Wednesday.

Portman, who is running to retain a seat Democrats are desperate to wrest from him, said Wednesday that Lynch was "highly qualified" and that he had "a good meeting" with her earlier this year, but wouldn't announce his decision on her nomination until Thursday morning.

Portman, like Ayotte and Murkowski, is facing public pressure by both advocates and opponents of Lynch, and both groups are threatening to use the nomination as a campaign issue. Conservative groups including the National Rifle Association, Heritage Action for America, and the Campaign For Liberty—which urged members to "stop Queen Loretta" in an email last month—have campaigned tirelessly against Lynch's nomination. Brent Bozell, founder of the conservative Media Research Center and the right-wing nonprofit ForAmerica, tweetedWednesday that "a vote to confirm Lynch is a vote in favor of amnesty and partial-birth abortion."

Meanwhile, Democratic groups already have used the Lynch nomination to go after the Senate's three announced presidential candidates, forecasting potential hits to come for Senate candidates in 2016. EMILY's List, for example, accused Sen. Marco Rubio of "hijacking" the nomination for political gain and President Obama just last week called the delay over Lynch "embarrassing".

Still, Portman said he hadn't been lobbied too heavily on the Lynch nomination, noting that he's heard a lot more in recent days about the Trade Promotion Authority bill making its way through Congress (and which the The Wall Street Journal's editorial board accused him of trying to kill this week). "It has not been high-pressure. I feel like people, you know, may have strong views, but I've felt a lot more pressure on trade issues," Portman said, noting that Lynch has had public commitments from 51 senators—sufficient votes to clear the Senate—for a few weeks now.

"I expect she'll pass with a healthy margin," Portman said, but declined to say whether he'll add to that margin ahead of Thursday's vote.

As of Wednesday evening, Lynch continued to have the public support of 51 members, with 15 members either publicly undecided or staying mum on how they'll vote Thursday. In addition to Ayotte, McConnell, Murkowski, Portman and Scott, the group of undecideds is a motley collection. It includes freshmen Sens. Tom Cotton, Cory Gardner, Mike Rounds, and Dan Sullivan; though Rounds said Wednesday that he would vote for cloture—the first step in confirming Lynch—while he remained undecided on the actual confirmation vote.

Veteran Republicans such as Sens. Mike Enzi, James Inhofe, and Pat Roberts haven't announced their positions either. Also undeclared are Sens. Dean Heller, who like Murkowski has been known to cross party lines, and John Thune, the chairman of the Senate Republican conference.