Next to his boss, the President, Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., may have the hardest job in government. As the recent history of both major parties illustrates, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer pleases few people and infuriates many.
Mr. Holder appears to recognize that he has become a political liability. The New York Times reported recently that he considered stepping down after four years, but did not in part because he wanted to move beyond the disputes that had characterized his tenure. The article said that although Mr. Obama stands with him, some in the White House think he should step down.
To be fair, much of what he has done would be excoriated by Republicans, no matter who was attorney general. His resistance to GOP efforts to pass onerous voter-identification laws has been stout; he said such a law in Texas amounted to a poll tax. He has been an advocate of the Affordable Care Act.
But he has also offended civil libertarians by trying to justify deadly drone attacks on American citizens accused of terrorism. Lately, his Justice Department has offended journalists by monitoring calls made by Associated Press reporters in a leak investigation and targeting a Fox News reporter. Republicans claim he lied to Congress about his knowledge of the latter case.
Sometimes, Mr. Holder has not been deft. To calm the media, he held an off-the-record interview with editors and tried to mollify them with promises of a federal shield law.
He was held in contempt by Congress for not handing over documents in the Fast and Furious “gun walking” fiasco. Although that was GOP grandstanding, it was also an embarrassment to administration claims of transparency.
Even if he were not close to Mr. Holder, the President knows that replacing one lightning rod with another will not stop the lightning. And that assumes Republican senators would confirm any replacement nominee.
No wonder President Obama stands by the attorney general. If Mr. Holder goes, it may have to be because of the self-realization that he can’t be effective under the weight of successive controversies, fair or not.