Senate panel advances Biden's No. 2 at the Justice Department, clashes on No. 3 nominee Vanita Gupta

Vanita Gupta
(Image credit: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced the nomination of Lisa Monaco, President Biden's pick for deputy attorney general, by voice vote, but deadlocked along partisan lines on Vanita Gupta, Biden's pick for the Justice Department's No. 3 official. Despite the 11-11 vote, Gupta is expected to win narrow confirmation in the Senate. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W-Va.) told CNN he's likely to support her, and several key GOP moderates could also vote yes.

Judiciary Committee Republicans have vocally opposed Gupta, who led the Obama Justice Department's civil rights division, and the conservative Judicial Crisis Network is airing misleading TV ads to sink her nomination. She has the support of law enforcement groups, including the National Fraternal Order of Police and the National Sheriff's Association.

Committee Republicans accused her of "extreme partisan" advocacy, pointing to her role as head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and requested a second confirmation hearing to press her on past positions. Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) rejected the request, accusing Republicans of stall tactics and noting only eight of the 11 Republicans showed up for her first confirmation hearing, only five of those asked a second round of questions, and only two Republicans have been willing to meet with her.

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Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has taken the lead on opposing Gupta, accusing her of lying to the committee about support for drug decriminalization and trying to tie her to Mexican drug traffickers by pointing out she owns stock in a company that makes acetic anhydride, a common organic solvent and reagent used in producing fibers, plastics, aspirin and other pharmaceuticals, and dyes, but also explosives and heroin.

Cornyn also has a long history with Gupta, "who rose to prominence in 2003 when she proved that dozens of men, almost all of them Black, had been arrested on fabricated drug charges in Tulia, Texas," The New York Times notes. The man behind those arrests was a narcotics agent named Tom Coleman, who Cornyn had named Texas Lawman of the Year in 1999 for his work in Tulia. On Wednesday night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow suggested Cornyn holds a grudge over Gupta's work disgracing Coleman and embarrassing him.

Biden has pulled only two nominees, Neera Tanden — like Gupta, an Indian American — and Elizabeth Klein, his choice for deputy interior secretary. Republicans, and Manchin, objected to Tanden's mean tweets and Klein's advocacy for curbing fossil fuels.

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