Biden Pick for DOJ Attacked by Republicans as ‘Extreme Partisan’
(Bloomberg) -- Conservative Senate Republicans signaled Tuesday that they intend to put up a fight over President Joe Biden’s nomination of Vanita Gupta to a senior post at the Justice Department, offering blistering attacks on her record that Democrats called part of a smear campaign.
“As I look at your record on every single issue, the positions you’ve advocated for are on the extreme left, and you’ve demonstrated an intolerance for and hostility to anyone that disagrees with the extreme left political positions,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas told Gupta at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Similarly sharp criticism by Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas reflected a Republican determination to challenge Gupta’s nomination for the No. 3 position in the Justice Department even as the Senate appears poised to confirm Merrick Garland, Biden’s choice for attorney general, as soon as Wednesday.
Gupta, who would be the first woman of color to serve as associate attorney general, defended her record while apologizing for some harsh statements she’s made, including in her current role as president and chief executive officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“While I’ve been a lifelong idealistic civil rights lawyer, I am a deeply pragmatic person,” Gupta said. “I understand that the position of associate attorney general is a law enforcement position. It has to be strictly nonpartisan in every measure.”
In response to questions, Gupta denied that she supports defunding police or decriminalizing all drugs. The challenges to Gupta came despite endorsement of her nomination by a number of major police organizations and conservative groups that have worked with her during her time in the civil rights organization and her previous service in the Justice Department.
The Senate committee’s chairman, Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois, said that Gupta has been the victim of false allegations.
“I am disappointed that some of my Senate colleagues are repeating the claims” in an advertisement portraying her as anti-police, Durbin, an Illinois Democrat said. “It is the height of hypocrisy that anyone would criticize this well-qualified Justice Department veteran after we sat silently by while there was no Senate-confirmed associate attorney general for nearly three years during the Trump administration -- an unprecedented leadership vacuum.”
Gupta said in her testimony that “I do not support defunding the police,” adding, “For too long, we have placed almost all, or so many, of our nation’s social problems at the feet of police.”
She said she regrets “the harsh rhetoric I have used at times in the last several years” and pledged that “if I’m confirmed you won’t be hearing that kind of rhetoric from me.”
Gupta headed the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration. One of its tools was “pattern-or-practice” investigations of police departments alleged to engage in frequent abuses, an approach opposed by some in law enforcement and largely abandoned under President Donald Trump.
The Judiciary panel held a joint nomination hearing for Gupta and Lisa Monaco, who’s been nominated to be deputy attorney general, the No. 2 position.
The Justice Department must take deliberate action in coming weeks and months to defend democracy and the Constitution in response to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Monaco said in her testimony.
“Today, the Justice Department is at an inflection point,” Monaco said. “Our response to the shocking events of January 6th, an attack that cut to our country’s core -- and I know so personally affected many in this room -- is nothing less than the defense of our democracy.”
“Never has the department’s role in protecting our national security and the safety of the American people been more important, as we battle violent extremism -- foreign and domestic -- and mounting cyber threats from nation states and criminals alike,” Monaco said.
Monaco said she spent more than 15 years at the Justice Department under presidents of both parties. In 2011 Monaco became the first woman to lead the Justice Department’s national security division, a position that required Senate confirmation. She also was homeland security adviser to President Barack Obama.
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