- She becomes the second Indian American nominee after Neera Tanden to face sexism and racial prejudice.
While Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, is fighting hard for her confirmation, Vanita Gupta, Biden’s nominee as associate attorney general, seems to be the next target of the Republicans. Gupta, a long-time civil rights attorney, has been a target of false claims and smears by right-wing conservatives. The 48-year-old rights activist attorney previously led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Obama.
Last month, Gupta came under attack from the Judicial Crisis Network, “a deeply conservative organization,” which launched a “$800,000 ad campaign,” and from the Conservative Action Project, the Washington Post reported.
The Judicial Crisis Network ad calls Gupta as a “dangerous appointee” who “supports defunding the police,” and wants to “reduce punishments on white supremacists and terrorists,” and “let convicts out of jail.”
In a letter sent to the Senate, dated Feb. 26, the Conservative Action Project says “Gupta will bring the radical left’s culture war to the DOJ, jeopardizing safe policing through an agenda that is out of touch with Americans.” Noting that she is “compromised by her association with extreme leftist groups and is unfit to serve in a department that is responsible for delivering justice and preserving the rule of law.”
To counter that attack, Gupta has received support “from a group of prominent anti-Trump conservatives who is launching a $1 million ad campaign,” the Post reports. Defending Democracy Together, a collection of moderate Republicans was launched in opposition to Donald Trump’s presidency. Founders include conservative columnist Bill Kristol and author Mona Charen.
Those supporting Gupta describe her as “a fierce champion of civil rights,” who has “devoted her career to advancing racial and social justice and equality for all.” Organizers behind the ‘Confirm Gupta’ effort told the Post that they intend to showcase bipartisan support for her nomination. “Vanita Gupta has earned the respect of Republicans and law enforcement officials as an ally in the fight for criminal justice reform. Now, she must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Associate Attorney General,” organizers say on the website. It contains statements of support from several organizations and groups and individuals. In its letter, the Federal Law Enforcement Officials Association praised Gupta’s “dedication toward the advancement of civil rights,” arguing that it should “go a long way towards restoring the public trust.”
Organizers told the Post that the centerpiece of the ‘Confirm Gupta’ effort is “a 30-second spot to air on cable networks and the Sunday political talk shows” which aims at “persuading key senators, including moderate Democrat Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, to vote in favor of her confirmation.”
Gupta’s confirmation hearing is scheduled for March 9, along with Lisa Monaco, Biden’s nominee for Deputy Attorney General. If confirmed, she would be the first women of color to serve as associate attorney general.
The backlash from Republicans to Biden’s nominees of color, including Tanden and Gupta, has stirred a debate about sexism and racial prejudice in the Republican Party. Several of Biden’s nominees of color have seen their nominations slow-walked in the Senate or have already come under comparatively harsher criticism than the white men up for top administration posts.
Tanden is facing ire for her previous tweets, many of which have been deleted since, criticizing several Republicans including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), as well as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Tanden’s peril began when Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced that he did not support her nomination due to her previous tweets criticizing his colleagues. That was followed by Collins and Sen Mitt Romney of Utah, as well as Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who announced that they would vote against Tanden during the confirmation process. Without support from Manchin in an evenly divided Senate, Tanden needs backing from at least one Republican.
Meanwhile, Tanden’s confirmation was put further in peril as two hearings that were scheduled to vote on her nomination were unexpectedly postponed on Feb. 24. Citing that senators want more time to consider the nomination, news reports speculate that it could be a sign of trouble.
However, Tanden stands a chance if she wins the support of moderate Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, but neither have confirmed their support or otherwise. Tanden reportedly was scheduled to meet with Murkowski on March 1.
Tanden has the support of several progressive groups as well as from South Asian and Asian American organizations, political action committees, lawmakers and influential policymakers who are organizing through phone calls, social media, tweet storms, op-eds, and sign-on letters. These support groups are focusing on three senators who have yet to declare their intentions — Murkowski, Sinema and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Shekar Narasimhan, chair of AAPI Victory Fund told American Kahani that the South Asian American community “will do whatever it takes and are doing it.” He continued: “As long as the White House is standing behind them and fighting, we will be fighting, and it has to be strategic and targeted.” Although the APPI is hoping that both Tanden and Gupta “get over the finish line,” Narasimhan said that “given the attacks on both and other people of color like Xavier Becerra,” raise the question of “whether this is deliberate.” He notes that “President Biden is trying to build a diverse and inclusive Cabinet and should be given the right to put competent people he trusts into these positions as all Presidents before him have. Nobody is questioning the capabilities, skills or abilities of Neera and Vanita so they should and must be confirmed.”
Neil Makhija, executive director of IMPACT, an Indian American advocacy group, has drafted a letter of support to key Senators, including Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee; Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), ranking members of the Senate Budget Committee; Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; and Ron Johnson (R-WI), ranking members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Makhija told American Kahani that they are in the process of collecting names of community leaders nationwide and in key states.
The letter, a copy of which was sent to American Kahani, confirms IMPACTS’ support and the support of “many in the broader South Asian American community—for Neera Tanden’s nomination to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). IMPACT.” The letter describes Tanden as “an experienced progressive leader and brilliant policy wonk who, if confirmed, would be the first woman of color and first South Asian American to lead OMB.” Noting that “there is so much at stake for our country over the next four years, as we fight this horrific pandemic and build back our economy better than before,” the letter concludes: “MPACT is confident that Neera Tanden will be a tremendous advocate for all Americans, including the Indian American community, once confirmed to lead the Office of Management and Budget. We are thrilled she is set to make history in this office, and urge you to swiftly confirm her nomination.”
Bhargavi Kulkarni has been a journalist for nearly two decades. She has a degree in English literature and French. She is also an adventure sport enthusiast, and in her free time, she likes to cook, bake, bike and hike.