Senate panel deadlocks over Vanita Gupta amid GOP opposition
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday deadlocked in a tie vote over President Biden’s pick of Vanita Gupta for a high-ranking Justice Department post amid objections from Republicans, who have sought to paint her as an extremist.
The committee voted 11-11 on Gupta’s nomination for associate attorney general, the No. 3 post at the Department of Justice. The vote was abruptly called two hours into the hearing as Republicans voiced their concerns about Gupta.
Lisa Monaco, Biden’s pick for the No. 2 spot, was advanced unopposed at the same hearing.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) 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.
Durbin told The Hill after the hearing that Republicans invoked a procedural rule that brought the hearing to an abrupt halt.
The hearing devolved into bickering and jeers when Durbin suddenly interrupted the Republicans’ lengthy attacks on Gupta to force a vote.
“This is an embarrassment and a disgrace,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican.
His comment was met with laughter from Democrats, prompting Cornyn to shoot back, “Yeah, it’s really funny isn’t it?”
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the committee, said, “Her public record is too extreme and her public testimony hasn’t helped me contextualize it in any meaningful way.”
“I appreciate the work that she has done on criminal justice reform, as I’ve said many times, but I don’t think running civil enforcement for the United States is the right place for a partisan progressive activist.”
Republicans on the committee have attacked Gupta with claims that she wants to decriminalize all drugs and defund the police, even as she enjoys broad support from law enforcement associations and conservative figures.
“Committee Republicans did everything in their power to block a vote on this highly qualified and historic nominee — filibustering and then invoking an obscure Senate rule to prevent the Committee from meeting after 12pm,” Emily Hampsten, a spokeswoman for Durbin, said in a statement released after the hearing. “This outrageous obstruction of a nominee with broad support from across the political spectrum left Chair Durbin with no option but to call a roll call vote before the Committee meeting was terminated.”
The GOP invoked a rule that forces an end to hearings after two hours, a procedural move that’s sometimes employed by the minority party to obstruct a matter under consideration. Hampsten said that the move took Durbin by surprise and that he was informed of the maneuver just five minutes before it would have taken effect.
“Republicans invoked the rule despite earlier assurances they would not do so and despite the Chair’s patience in listening to baseless assertions against Ms. Gupta — assertions that have been debunked multiple times by Committee Democrats, the press, and others,” she said in her statement.
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.
While leading the civil rights group, Gupta was an outspoken critic of former President Trump and his efforts to push through large numbers of conservative judicial nominees.
Senate Republicans have seized on her criticisms of their own role in confirming right-wing judges over the past four years.
In her confirmation hearing earlier this month, Gupta apologized for comments she made on Twitter and elsewhere during the Trump era but denied accusations that she is anti-police or that her work as a civil rights advocate would hinder her ability to serve in the high-ranking position.
“I regret the harsh rhetoric I have used at times in the last several years,” Gupta said. “I think perhaps the rhetoric has gotten harsh over the past several years and I have fallen prey to it.
“I wish I could take it back,” she continued. “I can’t, but what I can commit to you and ask that you do is look at my lifelong record. I have, from early on in my career, sought out people who don’t always think like me, people who have very different views, because I believe in the importance of consensus to get things done.”
Republicans have cited her criticisms of the confirmations of judges like Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
“Senate Republicans just confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court,” Gupta said in a tweet from October. “This entire rushed process — from selection to confirmation — is illegitimate, threatens core civil rights, and exposes the Republicans’ misplaced priorities. Our country deserves so much better.”
Democrats on the committee were not swayed by Republicans’ objections, which they dismissed as a smear campaign. On Wednesday, Durbin rejected a GOP request 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 a letter to a group of Republican senators.
“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,” he added.
Updated at 1:57 p.m.