The Senate on Wednesday voted to confirm Vanita Gupta as the third-highest official at the Justice Department, despite near-unanimous opposition from Republicans who branded her as a radical who would defund police.
Ms. Gupta, who previously served as head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, will become the first woman of color to serve as associate attorney general.
The near-party-line vote was 51-49 with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, breaking with her party to support the nominee.
Republicans were united in their opposition to Ms. Gupta, blasting her as a progressive activist who will damage the Justice Department’s relationship with local police departments. They also accused her of flip-flopping on topics such as on legalizing small amounts of drugs and police funding.
“The lack of support for Ms. Gupta is because of her radical record, which is far outside the mainstream,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “She’s championed radical policies of all her professional career.
“There is not a single person on this side of the aisle who believes Ms. Gupta is fit to serve as third-in-command at the Department of Justice,” he continued.
Ms. Gupta has made previous statements appearing to support the decriminalization of all drugs and for legislatures to heed calls from Black Lives Matter activists to defund the police. In Senate testimony last year, she said all Americans have racist biases.
Ms. Gupta distanced herself from these positions during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. She told lawmakers she doesn’t support decriminalizing drugs or defunding the police.
Republicans say she was just telling senators what they wanted to hear to earn confirmation. They had requested a second hearing to drill down some of her positions, which was denied.
“During the confirmation process, she employed the loosest possible interpretation of her oath to deliver honest testimony,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
Democrats have unanimously supported her confirmation, citing her experience and commitment to investigate and prevent hate crimes, including those targeting the Asian community.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said following the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, Ms. Gupta will help to advance civil rights in America.
He also blasted Republicans for refusing to support the nominee, accusing them of smearing Ms. Gupta.
“I sometimes find it hard to believe this amazing, outstanding, remarkable young woman is being degraded by so many Republicans when comes to the floor,” Mr. Durbin said. “She has a record that is incredible. She is the right person for the job.”
President Biden cited the nominations of Ms. Gupta and Kristin Clarke, his nominee to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a speech Tuesday following the Chauvin verdict. He said they would work to “root out unconstitutional policing and reform our criminal justice system.”
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