No Attorney General to be named until after midterm election

President Obama announces the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday, September 25, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Mark Wilson, Getty Images

WASHINGTON - President Obama will not announce his pick to replace Attorney General Eric Holder before the midterm elections, a move that will shield the new nominee from the intense politics that precede an election but could set up a showdown at the end of the year with a lame-duck Senate.

Senate Democrats have asked the president to delay his announcement so they can avoid stirring up controversy before the election over whether they'll support the nominee. The delay also gives Mr. Obama more time to consider his options.

Holder resigned last month after serving for the first six years of the Obama administration. While the move was expected, the president said it was "bittersweet" to see one of the last three remaining members of his original cabinet depart.

The President has not yet decided who he will pick to replace Holder, a White House official told the Associated Press. His aides did not begin seriously considering candidates until Holder's Sept. 25 resignation, when he said he would stay until his replacement is confirmed.

"I would anticipate that it will take a little bit of time for the work to be done to determine who the right person is for that important task," said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. He called on the Senate to "act quickly and in bipartisan fashion to confirm" once the nomination is made.

With the delay, the White House is readying for the prospect of securing confirmation in November or December, while Democrats still have a 10-seat majority in the Senate. If Republicans gain control of the chamber - which the latest CBS News Battleground Tracker predicts will happen - it will become even more difficult to get the President's nominee confirmed.

There are just seven legislative calendar weeks in which the Senate can meet between the midterm elections and the new Congress, not including time off for holiday recesses.

Some Senate Republicans say the President should wait until the new Senate is seated in January to nominate Holder's replacement. Holder's tenure was characterized by frequent political battles with Republican lawmakers during his six-year tenure, and they've promised a thorough vetting of his replacement.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the leading Republican on the Judiciary Committee that will hold hearings on the nominee, said Democrats are trying to "avoid making clear to the voters of their states where they stand on what could be a controversial choice for attorney general."

"This timing shows, once again, that the President and Democrat Senate leaders are willing to play politics with important policy decisions," Grassley said.

The White House says there is precedent for naming a new cabinet member during a lame duck, however, pointing to President George W. Bush's nomination of Robert Gates as defense secretary the day after his party lost control of both chambers of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections.

It seems likely the President will give most weight to someone who has already served in his administration, such as Solicitor General Don Verrilli, former White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler and Labor Secretary Tom Perez, although those involved with the process say other candidates haven't been ruled out.

Verrilli won plaudits from the administration for his successful defense of the Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court in 2012. He has extensive trial experience in the areas of telecommunications competition and online privacy, but Republicans have signaled that his limited national security experience could be a liability, given the ongoing U.S. conflicts with terror groups overseas.

Perez has a touching personal story about his rise from the child of Dominican immigrants and one-time trash collector to Labor Secretary. He would likely follow in Holder's footsteps with a focus on civil rights enforcement, given his previous experience heading the Justice Department's civil rights division. But he, too, lacks national security experience and barely made it through his last confirmation as Labor Secretary when Republicans accused him of selectively enforcing laws in accordance with his political views.

Ruemmler has a broad range of experience from her work as White House Counsel and member of his national security team, and she has a close relationship with Mr. Obama. She was also a former federal prosecutor, best known for winning criminal convictions against Enron executives Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling.

But Ruemmler, too, would likely face criticism from Republicans for her handling of White House controversies involving the IRS, Benghazi and the investigation of a White House volunteer in a prostitution scandal. And since she's never been through Senate confirmation before, congressional aides say she'd present a bigger challenge to process on a compressed schedule.

Other candidates whom administration officials have mentioned for consideration include Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York; Jenny Durkan, who recently announced she's stepping down as U.S. attorney in Washington state; former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; Tony West, who recently resigned as the No. 3 at the Justice Department and has accepted a job at Pepsico; and Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.