New Delhi: After Joe Biden administration withdrew the nomination of Neera Tanden as budget director last week, another Indian-American Vanita Gupta, nominated for the third-ranking position in the US Justice Department, faces a similar challenge.
Gupta, who headed the Justice Department’s civil rights division in the Obama administration, apologised for her “harsh rhetoric” in the past after facing sharp criticism from Republican senators during her confirmation hearing Tuesday. She has been nominated for the post of associate attorney-general.
“Her Twitter feed has painted Republicans with a broad brush, describing the Republican National Convention as three nights of ‘racism, xenophobia and outrageous lies,’” said Senator Chuck Grassley.
Don't know if I can take three more nights of racism, xenophobia, and outrageous lies.
— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) August 25, 2020
“I regret the harsh rhetoric that I have used in the past at times in the last several years,” Gupta said. “I wish I could take it back.”
Gupta, a civil rights attorney who leads the coalition group Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, asked the senators to instead look at her “lifelong record” as a believer “in the importance of building consensus” and as “a deeply pragmatic person”.
Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn also cited a few tweets she found objectionable — one was when Gupta criticised Senator Collins in 2018 after she announced plans to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault, to the Supreme Court.
“Senator Collins is failing her constituents and sending a dangerous message to survivors. This is excruciating,” Gupta had tweeted.
Senator Collins is failing her constituents and sending a dangerous message to survivors. This is excruciating.
— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) October 5, 2018
Gupta has had a long career as a litigator, especially cases relating to civil rights. A New York University Law School graduate, she had joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defence & Educational Fund as a legal fellow in 2001.
At the age of 21, Gupta fought a famous case for 46 people, mostly Black, who were arrested on charges of drug trafficking and convicted with extraordinarily long sentences in a small town in Texas.
Last month, Indian-American Neera Tanden, who had been nominated by US President Joe Biden as his budget chief, faced similar criticism over her history of “mean tweets” like calling Republican Senators Susan Collins “the worst”, Mitch McConnell the “Moscow Mitch” and for saying vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz.
Her confirmation in the 50-50 Senate turned rocky after West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin voiced his opposition. Though the Biden administration had said amid the controversy that it would continue to support Tanden, her nomination was eventually withdrawn.
‘Victim of smear campaign’
Apart from Republican criticism in the Senate, a $1 million ad campaign against Gupta’s nomination was announced Tuesday by the Judicial Crisis Network, a group that has fought to confirm conservative judges.
During her confirmation hearing, Democratic senators defended Gupta, with Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal calling her “a victim of a smear campaign”.
Gupta also faced questions on whether she supports defunding the police and decriminalising all drugs.
Senator Ted Cruz brought up her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee as an advocate last year, during which she had said reallocating resources can provide alternatives to law enforcement handling issues like mental health problems.
Gupta replied: “Respectfully, I disagree with how you’re characterizing that. I don’t support defunding the police. I’ve been very clear about that.”
Meanwhile, Republican Senator John Cornyn brought up a 2012 op-ed she had written and accused her of wanting to decriminalise all drugs. Gupta said she only supports decriminalising possession of marijuana and added that her stance had “evolved” since she wrote the article.
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