Attorney General Eric Holder's resignation on Thursday had everything to do with timing, and came as a "quit-now or never-quit moment," a former Obama administration official told Politico Magazine
Holder, who had reportedly been discussing his departure for 18 months with President Barack Obama and senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, announced his resignation on Thursday, saying he'll remain on duty until a new attorney general is confirmed.
He's been under pressure to retire not only from political forces dissatisfied with his record, particularly when it comes to the Fast and Furious scandal, but by his wife, a physician concerned about a recent health scare.
But Holder's timing was perfect, given the chance that Republicans could take over the Senate after the November election. By leaving now, confirmation hearings are certain to be held under a Senate that is still controlled by Democrats.
Had he waited, Obama could have had much more difficulty confirming Holder's successor, the former official said.
"You didn’t want confirmation hearings in 2015 if the Republicans control the Senate," the official said. "So if he didn’t do it now, there was no way he could ever do it.”
Holder told Obama his resignation plans over the Labor Day holidays, reports Politico, and Obama did not push back, although he faces a long confirmation battle to replace Holder.
This way, Obama has time to pick and vet Holder's successor and push him through during the post-election, lame-duck session after the midterm elections.
Holder, the nation's first African-American attorney general, is also leaving office on a high point after his trip to Ferguson, Mo., during the riots following the shooting death of an unarmed teenager.
But while the trip was well-received, Holder has been a polarizing figure politically, including being the first sitting Cabinet member to be found in contempt of Congress.
And Republicans are not sorry
to see him go.
"I welcome the news that Eric Holder will step down as Attorney General,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, in an email to Politico. “From Operation Fast and Furious to his misleading testimony before the House Judiciary Committee regarding the Department’s dealings with members of the media and his refusal to appoint a special counsel to investigate the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups, Mr. Holder has consistently played partisan politics with many of the important issues facing the Justice Department.”
But Holder will leave a hole in the Obama administration, particularly when it comes to race relations, as the outgoing attorney general often said things that Obama would not say.
“He’s a race man,” said Charles Ogletree, a longtime friend of Holder’s and mentor to Obama and his wife, Michelle, when they were Harvard Law students back in the 1980s.
"He’s gone farther and deeper into some issues of race than the White House would like, but I know he has the president’s well-wishes," said Ogletree. "It’s clear [Obama and Holder] believe in the same things.”
Holder has also become a close friend of Obama, even to the point of vacationing with the president and his family on Martha's Vineyard. Their wives are also close friends.
Meanwhile, a top Justice Department official said Holder has no immediate plans for his retirement, but he does want to remain involved to some of the causes he embraced while in office, including working to "restore trust between law enforcement and minority communities."
There are several names that may come under consideration to replace Holder, including Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr., California Attorney General Kamala Harris, and even Obama's first first-term choice, Janet Napolitano.