- During the heated hearing, Republicans on the committee called her a “liar,” “hyperpartisan” and “unfit” to serve in the Department of Justice.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on March 25 was deadlocked in a tie vote over Vanita Gupta, President Joe Biden’s nominee for associate attorney general. Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has said the tie vote for Gupta means that it will be up to Senate leadership on whether to bring a motion to advance her nomination.
Meanwhile, the committee advanced Lisa Monaco’s nomination to be deputy attorney general, without opposition.
Despite this latest resistance from the GOP, Gupta’s confirmation is expected to proceed, given the support from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.). CNN says “Gupta can be confirmed with solely Democratic votes in the 50-50 evenly divided Senate.” Manchin told CNN on March 15 that he is likely to back Gupta’s nomination “because of high marks” given to her by the Biden administration’s new attorney general, Merrick Garland. Moderate Republicans, including Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah, have not yet disclosed their vote on Gupta’s nomination.
Gupta has been receiving resistance from Republican senators for her views on defunding the police and decriminalizing possession of all illegal drugs. Similar to Gupta’s confirmation hearing last month, the Republicans in the committee accused her of being a liar and hyper partisan and not fit to serve in the department of Justice.
Durbin had to abruptly interrupt his GOP colleagues as they seemed to take their own sweet time, criticizing Gupta, and delaying the vote, which had a two hour time limit. Durbin told The Hill after the hearing that Republicans invoked a procedural rule that brought the hearing to an abrupt halt.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) had the mic then, and when he was interrupted by Durbin, he briefly protested that he wasn’t done yet. He also took to twitter to express his dissatisfaction. He began his remarks by saying that Gupta’s past statements are not only “hyper partisan but also laughable and offensive.”
Prior to him, Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the committee noted that Gupta wasn’t fit for her post. Grassley said Gupta’s “public record is too extreme and her public testimony hasn’t helped me contextualize it in any meaningful way.”
“This is an embarrassment and a disgrace,” he said, as the Democrats laughed. “Yeah, it’s really funny isn’t it,” he shot back. Earlier, he called Gupta a liar for saying that she has never advocated for the decriminalization of all drugs. He pointed to a 2012 editorial in which she said that simple possession of drugs should be decriminalized.
Cornyn has a long history with Gupta. She came into crosshairs with him as a fresh graduate in 2003, when she represented 38 people wrongly convicted in a drug case in Tulia, Texas, and helped get them a pardon from then-Republican Gov. Rick Perry. Cornyn was the state’s attorney general then.
Gupta had referenced that case, one other crowning glories, during her opening statement at her Senate confirmation. “From that early experience on, I have spent my career dedicated to making real the promise of our federal laws and Constitution — and leading with my long-held conviction that addressing difficult problems requires building consensus.”
A day before the March 25 vote, the Democrats on the committee rejected a letter from their Republican colleagues where they requested to hold a second hearing for Gupta and delay her committee vote, criticizing their opposition to her as hypocritical and in bad faith.
“While I always appreciate hearing from colleagues on the Committee, your request to hold a second hearing on Vanita Gupta’s nomination to be Associate Attorney General appears to be little more than a delay tactic aimed not at gathering more information, but at obstructing a highly qualified and historic nominee who has dedicated her career to the protection and expansion of civil rights,” Durbin wrote in his reply. “Contrary to President Trump and the judicial nominees who Senate Republicans supported, Ms. Gupta has expressed contrition, saying that she regrets the rhetoric she has used on occasion, none of which remotely approaches the offensive language that the former President regularly used.”
Gupta has support from a wide range of people, including law enforcement officers’ groups, and Republicans like former Department of Justice officials who served during the George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush administrations, as well as one former GOP House member and a former Republican commissioner of the Federal Elections Commission.
Gupta is currently the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which she joined in 2017 after serving as the chief of the Justice Department’s civil rights division under the Obama administration. If confirmed, she would serve as the first woman of color in the post, and would oversee the department’s civil and human rights divisions, as well as antitrust, environmental, grant-making and community policing matters.