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Obama Appointees Could Become Targets For GOP Ire


President Obama has nominated Ashton Carter to be secretary of defense. Republicans will control the Senate when Mr. Carter has his confirmation hearings, but he is expected to be easily confirmed. President Obama's other recent cabinet choice, Loretta Lynch for attorney general, may face more opposition. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks very much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Let's begin with Ashton Carter - any pockets of resistance visible right now?

ELVING: No, we haven't seen anybody in the Senate come out against him. We've seen some of the most powerful Republican senators on the Armed Services Committee - John McCain, Jim Inhofe - talking about how they see him as qualified, see him as nonpolitical. But we also have to remember that no one is perfect.

Even though this is a highly intellectual person with a degree in theoretical physics and another one in medieval history who served under several different secretaries of defense, he has not been a member of the uniformed armed services so he doesn't have that particular arrow in his quiver. And he is also going to be seen as an opportunity for Republicans to question all the things they don't like about the foreign policy and specifically the armed forces policy of the Obama administration.

SIMON: Help us understand what Loretta Lynch might confront. Of course, she's been nominated to replace Attorney General Holder. He's often had his disagreements with the Republican members of the Senate. Does that relationship in any way affect her prospects?

ELVING: In her own right, Loretta Lynch is probably no more controversial with Senate members or with Republican senators than Ash Carter is, but in her case some of the issues that are pending are going to make it much more tempting for them to make her a surrogate target. That is to say, they're going to go after Eric Holder and his service as attorney general and they're going to go after President Obama.

The executive action that the president took on immigration is so toxic to Senate Republicans - House Republicans too, but they don't get to vote on the confirmation. And they're going to use this as their occasion to ask her if she thinks the president has the authority do this, which is a tough question for her - a tough spot to put her in.

Also the nomination is going to be clouded, if not overshadowed, by this controversy that is roiling the country currently about police practices that have led to the deaths of people in custody or being taken into custody. And she is, herself, currently conducting an investigation into one of those incidents - the one on Staten Island that's causing all the protests this week.

SIMON: What has the administration's response been to these cases of police shootings and questions about the use of force?

ELVING: The administration through the Department of Justice - and that's Attorney General Eric Holder - has responded to these largely through investigations. There was an investigation launched into the Trayvon Martin case two-and-a-half years ago. That has still not been resolved.

The Department of Justice went after the Cleveland police division after a pattern of problems there and violent incidents there that has just now culminated in the release of a report and a signing of an agreement to change its police patterns and its police practices and policies. And to also submit to an independent oversight board - that may become a template for some of these other cities. Obviously, Ferguson, Missouri, is the one on most people's minds, and now, of course, New York City where the Eric Garner death took place.

SIMON: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: December 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM EST
We should have stated that the man who who shot Trayvon Martin in 2012 was not a police officer.