After more than five years as the top law enforcement official in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder will step down from his position later today. This news was first reported by NPR.
According to NPR’s sources, the 82nd attorney general in U.S. history informed President Obama of his decision Labor Day Weekend. Holder will not officially leave his post until a successor is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
The timing of Holder’s resignation is an important part of this story. With Congress due to return to Washington one week after the November 4 mid-term election, Congress will be sitting in a lame-duck session. Despite the outcome of the upcoming election (where Republicans are projecting to take back the Senate majority), Democrats will still have control of the Senate until late January. And, as RollCall.com points out, Senate Democrats implemented the so-called “nuclear option” last year. What this ominous sounding procedure allows the Senate majority to do is confirm a presidential nomination without the threat of a filibuster by Senate Republicans. This option was implemented due to a high number of Republican filibusters of presidential appointments, which caused vacancies in several high-level administrative positions (ex. Tom Wheeler’s nomination as FCC chairman was blocked solely by Sen. Ted Cruz [R-Texas] for a period of time).
With it being a virtual guarantee that the Senate (more appropriately, Senate Democrats) will confirm President Obama’s nominee, the question that remains is who that nominee will be. NPR suggested Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. as a possible successor to Holder. USA Today produced a short list of possible candidates earlier today. In addition to Verrilli, the paper includes names such as soon-to-be former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, former Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano, former FBI director Robert Mueller (who is heading up the investigation of the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice incident), and Kathryn Ruemmler, who served in the Justice Department under President Obama as principal associate deputy attorney general.