WASHINGTON -- African-American and other civil rights leaders infuriated over the stalled confirmation vote on Loretta Lynch, the first black woman to be nominated for attorney general, are casting the delay as an issue with racial overtones.
They are urging the Senate to act immediately and end a process that has now lasted more than five months.
Activists across the country last week began a hunger strike over the Senate's failure to vote on Lynch. African-American groups have also protested outside the offices of senators who oppose her leading the Justice Department.
One Democratic senator -- Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois -- compared the holdup with the treatment of civil rights activist Rosa Parks in the segregated South, saying that Lynch has been "asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar."
The Rev. Al Sharpton, the president of the National Action Network, which is organizing the hunger strike, said: "Why is it that the first black female nominee is being treated in such a disrespectful and inexcusable manner?"
President Barack Obama has not cast the delay over Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, in racial terms. But on Friday, he called the inaction a "crazy situation" and said, "There are times when the dysfunction in the Senate just goes too far."
In November, Obama nominated Lynch, the daughter of a fourth-generation Baptist minister from North Carolina, to replace Attorney General Eric Holder, who had announced two months earlier that he was stepping down as soon as the Senate approved a new nominee.
On Feb. 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to confirm Lynch by a vote of 12 to 8. But then the nomination went nowhere.
The full Senate was expected to vote on Lynch's nomination a week or two later. Instead, it became tangled in a controversy over the abortion provisions in a human-trafficking bill.
Durbin's comparison of Lynch to Rosa Parks a month ago did not sit well with Republicans.
"It is beneath the dignity and decorum of the United State Senate . . . for him to come to this floor and use that imagery and suggest that racist tactics are being employed to delay Ms. Lynch's confirmation vote," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on the Senate floor. "It was offensive and unnecessary and I think he owes this body, Ms. Lynch and all Americans an apology."
Holder, for his part, joked that Republicans, who had clashed with him repeatedly over the last six years, had "discovered a new fondness for me" because the longer the delay, the longer he remains attorney general. But Holder said the issue was more about politics than race.
"My guess is that there is probably not a huge racial component to this, that this is really just D.C. politics, Washington at its worst," Holder told MSNBC.
Finger-pointing intensified last week with White House spokesman Josh Earnest criticizing Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) for an "astounding degree of duplicity" for suggesting that Democrats and the president contributed to the delay by not urging Lynch's confirmation when Democrats controlled the Senate last fall.