The Senate confirmed civil rights lawyer Vanita Gupta to be the Associate Attorney General Wednesday.
Gupta, who will be the third-ranking official at the Department of Justice, was confirmed 51-49, with Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski joining all 50 Democrats voting in favor.
“I have looked at her record, I have had an extensive sit down with her,” Murkowski said before the vote. “I am impressed with her credentials … and the passion that she carries with her with the work that she performs.”
Murkowski acknowledged Gupta’s confirmation was contentious but said her passion was “impactful.”
Gupta’s nomination advanced in the Senate earlier Tuesday on an identical vote, over near-unanimous Republican objections.
“Unlike previous nominees that have received bipartisan support, there is not a single person on this side of the aisle that believes that Ms. Gupta is fit to serve as the third-in-command at the Department of Justice,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn on the Senate floor, citing her “radical record” career as a “partisan activist.”
Gupta previously led the Justice Department’s civil rights division under former President Barack Obama, and is on leave as president of the left-leaning Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
After her confirmation hearing in March, the Senate Judiciary Committee split 11-11 along party lines on advancing her nomination. Republicans criticized her previous tweets that were critical of GOP lawmakers and accused her of lying during her hearing about her support for decriminalizing drugs.
She had a lengthy exchange with Cornyn during the hearing, who pointed to her 2012 Huffington Post op-ed as evidence that she supported decriminalization, despite testifying otherwise.
“I believe Ms. Gupta’s deception, her lack of remorse, her dishonesty when it comes to answering straightforward questions of the committee, disqualifies her for the office of associate attorney general,” Cornyn said.
Democrats, however, praised Gupta throughout her hearing and up to Tuesday’s vote, saying that she was the victim of a Republican “smear campaign.”
“Vanita Gupta was completely honest and forthright,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. He alleged that Cornyn’s accusations toward her were false since Gupta only supported decriminalizing the possession of trace amounts of drugs and not drug offenses entirely.
“Ms. Gupta, you’ve been a victim of a smear campaign, a despicable and rancid campaign to discredit you,” said Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal following her confirmation hearing.
Republicans also accused Gupta of supporting the defunding of police, seizing on comments in which she expressed support for reallocating resources so law enforcement did not have to handle mental health problems.
Gupta pushed back, telling Cruz: “I don’t support defunding the police. I’ve been very clear about that.” She also pointed to her support from multiple sheriffs and law enforcement organizations.
Gupta first gained national attention in 2003, when she proved that dozens of men in Texas, most of whom were black, were arrested and convicted on falsified drug charges. The agent behind the arrests was found guilty of perjury, and her work led former Gov. Rick Perry to ultimately pardon 35 people.
Her confirmation means she will join Attorney General Merrick Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who was confirmed Tuesday by a 98-2 vote.
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