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Senate reaches deal to vote on confirmation of Loretta Lynch

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch testifies during her confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on January 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew Harnik for The Washington Post)

Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, nominated by President Obama in November, will get a confirmation vote in the coming days under a deal announced Tuesday morning by Senate leaders that ends a weeks-long impasse sparked by partisan divides over immigration and abortion.

"I'm glad we can now say there is a bipartisan proposal that will allow us to complete action on this important legislation," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday morning, about a bill combating human trafficking that became a roadblock to Lynch's confirmation. "As soon as we finish the trafficking bill ... we'll move to the president's nominee for attorney general hopefully in the next day or so."

Democrats have filibustered the anti-trafficking bill since it came to the Senate floor in late February due to abortion restrictions embedded within it, and Republicans vowed not to move forward with Lynch's confirmation until the trafficking bill is dealt with.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says the Senate could vote this week on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the next attorney general, ending a month-long partisan impasse on an unrelated human trafficking bill that threatened to stall her confirmation indefinitely. (Video: Reuters)

The deadlock was broken after both parties agreed on language specifying that a victims' fund established by the legislation would not be used for healthcare or medical services, and thus not for abortions. Trafficking victims would instead be eligible for health care under a separate program already subject to the longstanding abortion restrictions known as the Hyde Amendment, which contains exceptions for cases of rape and incest.

The deal came together after weeks of tough talk from both sides and mounting pressure from outside groups urging Republican leaders to move forward with an up-or-down vote on Lynch.

[Obama blasts Senate over stalled Lynch confirmation, calling it an ‘embarrassing’ example of ‘dysfunction’]

Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday accused Republicans of "pushing around Loretta Lynch for sport" and trying to "dupe American women." But behind the scenes, senators and staff were putting the finishing touches on a deal. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) played key roles in negotiating with John Cornyn (R-Texas), the lead author of the anti-trafficking bill.

"This is really good news," Reid announced Tuesday morning, speaking on the Senate floor after McConnell. "This compromise is evidence that when Republicans and Democrats sit down together and work toward a solution, great things can happen. The Senate needs more of this."

Cornyn said in a statement he was "thrilled we were finally able to come together to break the impasse over this vital legislation, and I look forward to swift passage in the Senate so we can ensure victims of human trafficking receive the resources they need to restore their lives."

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday the administration had not yet seen the text of the anti-trafficking bill. But he noted the support of Murray and said “it seems like the kind of thing the president would be able to support.”

Earnest said that "hopefully after passage, the Senate can promptly turn its attention to the confirmation of Loretta Lynch. ... I would take this opportunity to encourage them once again, after 164 days of delay, to move forward as quickly as possible."

Fifty-one senators have publicly stated their support for Lynch, likely assuring her confirmation once McConnell brings it to the floor. Most Republicans, however, continue to oppose her -- most of them citing her support for President Obama's authority to take executive action on immigration.

Senate Republican leaders were under increasing pressure from Democrats and a few vocal Republican backers, like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to move forward with Lynch. But striking the deal also allows them to the remove the distraction of the Lynch nomination and move forward with a jam-packed six-week work session. Waiting for floor consideration are major policy measures, including a bipartisan bill setting out a congressional review of a potential nuclear deal with Iran, a bill to strengthen national cyber-security efforts and, next month, legislation granting President Obama "fast track" trade authority.

The Senate could start taking up amendments to the trafficking bill later Tuesday, setting up a vote for final passage late Tuesday or Wednesday. Unless all senators agree to move forward with Lynch's confirmation, which is unlikely given the rancor surrounding her nomination, a procedural vote would have to take place, pushing her confirmation until Thursday or perhaps early next week.

Pitfalls remain, particularly in the amendments that might be offered to the anti-trafficking bill. Reid on Tuesday warned Republican leaders to be "very, very careful" as they move forward.

"Each side is going to have to be cautious in what they offer, because any one of those amendments, as we know, can cause a mini filibuster, or a maxi filibuster, depending on how you look at it," he said. "We don't need to get involved in that."

David Nakamura contributed to this report.