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Senators clear biggest obstacle to vote on Loretta Lynch

Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, seen in a

Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, seen in a Jan. 28, 2015 photo, appears in Washington. Senate leaders announced a deal Tuesday, April 21, 2015 that should clear the way for the long-stalled vote on President Barack Obama's attorney general nominee. Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON -- A vote to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general could come as soon as Thursday after Senate leaders announced they had reached a deal on a gridlocked anti-sex-trafficking bill that has held up her nomination for several weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday hailed the agreement worked out over the past five days and said, "As soon as we finish with the trafficking bill, as I've indicated for some time now, we'll move the president's nominee for attorney general, hopefully in the next day or so."

Democrats have complained about the long-delayed vote for Lynch, now the U.S. attorney for Long Island and three city boroughs. She was nominated on Nov. 8 -- 5 1/2 months ago -- and approved by the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 26.

She is expected to be confirmed to replace Eric Holder with the votes of the 46-member Democratic caucus and at least five Republicans who have publicly backed her when a floor vote is held.

Republican leaders last night were working on a list of amendments to the trafficking bill and hoped to finish votes on those measures and the legislation's final passage Wednesday, a GOP aide said.

If that occurs, a confirmation vote for Lynch could be held Thursday, the aide said.

But Democrats warned of possible procedural delays that could push the vote on Lynch into next week by Republican senators, such as Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who oppose her for backing the legal reasoning behind President Barack Obama's immigration executive order.

"Loretta Lynch's nomination has been stuck in a tunnel. Finally, we're beginning to see the light at the end of it," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "But we're not just there yet."

In late February, McConnell (R-Ky.) tied the vote on Lynch to the trafficking bill after Democrats filibustered it four times. Democrats blocked the bill after belatedly discovering language in it they claimed would expand restrictions on abortion and demanded its removal.

That language would have applied the Hyde Amendment's long-standing restrictions on certain federal dollars for abortion, except in the case of rape or incest, to the bill's Domestic Trafficking Victims' Fund.

The Hyde restriction is routinely added to congressional appropriations, and Democrats accepted it for that part of the fund's underwriting. But they oppose applying it to money collected from criminal offenders that would go to the fund.

The compromise allows the fund's congressional appropriation to be used for health services under the Hyde restrictions, but the offenders' money will go into the Treasury's General Fund and be used instead for legal aid and law enforcement.

Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) negotiated the deal with the bill's main sponsor, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the deal "an encouraging sign," but added, "We haven't yet taken a look at the language."

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