Senate panel split over nomination of Vanita Gupta

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Washington, March 26 (PTI): The Senate Judiciary Committee has ended in a tie vote over the nomination of Indian-American civil rights lawyer Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general of the United States, amid objections from the Republicans.

The committee on Thursday voted 11-11 on Gupta’s nomination. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, can now file a discharge motion on her nomination to allow a full Senate vote on her nomination.

If confirmed, Gupta, 46, would be the first woman of colour to serve as associate attorney general, and the first civil rights lawyer to serve in one of the top three positions at the US Department of Justice. More than 100 organisations have urged the Senate to confirm Gupta.

“Under the provisions of S. Res. 27, Leader Schumer may now file a discharge motion on Ms Gupta’s nomination to place her on the executive calendar,” the Senate Judiciary Committee said after it voted for the nomination of Vanita Gupta to be US Associate Attorney General by a vote of 11-11.

Ahead of the vote, all Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to Senator Durbin demanding a second confirmation hearing on Gupta.

“While under oath, Vanita Gupta misled the Committee on at least four issues: Her support for eliminating qualified immunity; her support for decriminalising all drugs; her support for defunding the police; and her death penalty record,” they wrote.

“Unfortunately, in her responses a week later to our written questions, Ms. Gupta was no more forthcoming. In some cases, she doubled down on her misleading statements from the hearing, and in others, she refused to answer altogether,” the Republican senators wrote.

“We urge you to immediately schedule a second hearing with Ms. Gupta so that she can answer for her misleading statements, and for her refusal to respond to our written questions,” they wrote.

Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said: “Vanita Gupta is an exceptionally well-qualified person to be Associate Attorney General… her extensive support from prominent conservatives is not an aberration,” said Senator.

“It is the natural result of the fact that she has worked across the partisan divide throughout her entire career,” Durbin said.

In his remarks during the voting process, Durbin said that he is “struggling to understand” the fierce opposition of the Republicans to this nominee.

“She is extraordinary. She has the support of law enforcement groups that any one of us would be proud to have. And yet, she continues to be labelled as soft on crime or wanting to defund the police, and there’s no truth to that whatsoever,” Durbin said.

The Democrats alleged that during the Judiciary Committee’s vote on Gupta’s nomination to be Associate Attorney General, Committee Republicans did everything in their power to block the vote on this highly qualified and historic nominee – filibustering for nearly two hours and then invoking an obscure Senate rule to prevent the Committee from meeting beyond 12:00 PM.

“This 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 by Republicans’ invocation of this rule,” said a media release issued by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile, on the Senate floor, Republican Senator John Cornyn discussed the alleged ties of Gupta to the firm Avantor, which sells a chemical that has been linked to the illicit drug trade in Mexico.

“The nominee for the third highest-ranking position at the Department of Justice has profited to the tune of millions of dollars from Avantor stock,” he alleged.

“Vanita Gupta has been nominated to serve as the Associate Attorney General and she is a very large shareholder in this publicly-traded company. This isn’t just a blind investment in a mutual fund, this is the family business. Ms. Gupta’s father is Avantor’s chairman of the Board,” Cornyn said.

“I cannot support the nomination of Ms Gupta to serve as Associate Attorney General and I would urge all of my colleagues to oppose her nomination as well,” he said.

In a statement after the split vote, Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that Gupta is exactly the leader the country needs in this role at this critical moment.

“Now is not the time for baseless and harmful partisan tactics. With broad support that crosses ideological divides, Gupta is a consensus builder who will bring vital civil rights and racial justice experience to the Justice Department. The country needs Gupta and her experience in this important role now, and the Senate must take swift and immediate action to confirm her,” he said.

Gupta currently is president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She previously served as Acting Assistant Attorney General and head of the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in the Obama administration.

The Heritage Foundation think tank, alleged that Gupta is a far-Left partisan activist who supports defunding the police and packing the Supreme Court, among a host of other extreme policies.

“While President Biden gives lip service to unity and bipartisanship, Gupta’s nomination continues a disturbing trend of bowing to the liberal wing of his party when making nominations for key posts in his administration. Senators should reject Vanita Gupta for this post,” it said.

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