President Obama on Wednesday blasted the Senate's rejection of Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division as a "travesty," accusing lawmakers of succumbing to "wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant."
The Senate knocked down Adegbile's nomination Wednesday in a 47-52 vote, with seven Democrats defecting.
In a scorching statement, Obama said that Adegbile's qualifications were "impeccable" and cast the defeat as politically motivated.
"The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice — and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant," Obama said.
Obama said Adegbile represented "the best of the legal profession" and that his personal story was the embodiment of what the American dream could offer "for people who work hard and play by the rules."
"As a lawyer, Mr. Adgebile has played by the rules," he said. "And now, Washington politics have used the rules against him."
Attorney General Eric Holder said he was “disappointed” in the vote, adding that Adegbile’s nomination should have been considered “wholly on the merits.”
“His record was either misunderstood, or intentionally misrepresented for the sake of politics," Holder said.
"Our legal system hinges on the fundamental ideal that every accused individual has a constitutional right to counsel. It is a very dangerous precedent to set for the legal profession when individual lawyers can have their otherwise sterling qualifications denigrated based solely on the clients that their organizations represent.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted against Adgebile's nomination, preserving his ability to bring up the nomination in a future vote. Joining him in voting against the pick were Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), John Walsh (Mont.), Chris Coons (Del.) and Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.).
But other vulnerable Democrats, including Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Begich (Alaska), voted to confirm the nomination.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called the vote an "embarrassment" for the White House and suggested the GOP would use the vote in the midterm elections.
“This is an embarrassment for President Obama and the Democrats who thought it was a good idea to nominate a convicted cop-killer’s most ardent defender to head a DOJ Department and failed," Priebus said.
"Vulnerable Democrats running in 2014 just voted to confirm a radical nominee whose positions on civil rights, religious liberty, voting rights and the second amendment are far outside the mainstream.”
— This story was updated at 2:26 p.m.