Republicans on the committee objected when Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., pushed the vote through after cutting off Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., in the middle of his remarks opposing Gupta’s nomination, citing the “two-hour rule.” That rule, described in Senate Rule XXVI paragraph 5(a), states that committees must break if the full Senate has been in session for two hours.
“I assure the chairman that what comes around goes around,” Cotton warned when the roll call votes were given.
Cotton was one of many Republicans who delivered speeches illustrating why they were against Gupta’s nomination. He referred to testimony she delivered in the past, in which she stated that all Americans held implicit biases and racial biases. Cotton said that during her confirmation hearing he asked who she held biases against, and she responded by noting that there are stereotypes she holds but said everyone can manage these biases if they acknowledge them.
Prior to the meeting, every Republican senator on the committee signed a letter requesting a second confirmation hearing for Gupta, which was denied. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz recognized that this was “an unusual step,” but said it was taken “because her statements before this committee were in direct contradiction to her long-standing record.”
Cruz specifically pointed to Gupta’s claims during her confirmation hearing that she does not support decriminalizing all drugs or defunding police.
Contradicting the drug claim, Cruz cited a 2012 op-ed Gupta wrote in which she said, “States should decriminalize simple possession of all drugs, particularly marijuana, and for small amounts of other drugs.”
In reference to defunding the police, Cruz pointed to Gupta’s own testimony to the committee in 2020, in which she said that state and local leaders should “heed calls from Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives activists to decrease police budgets and the scope, role and responsibility of police in our lives.”
Cruz also recalled remarks Gupta delivered at a webinar days after that testimony, in which she said: “Localities have been overspending on criminal justice system infrastructure and policing and divesting in housing, education, jobs and health care. Some people call it ‘defunding’ the police, other people call it ‘divest/invest.'” At the webinar, Gupta then said that “whatever you call it, if you care about mass incarceration, you have to care about skewed funding priorities.”
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, delivered a slow but scathing rebuke of Gupta, accusing her of harboring “a certain contempt for the views of people with whom she disagrees.” He cited a tweet in which Gupta claimed that Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, had failed her constituents and was “sending a dangerous message” to sexual assault survivors by voting to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Lee expressed concern that Gupta would “do all that she can to wield the Department of Justice against those who may hold different positions than she holds,” and said that her “particularly divisive form of leadership is not what we need to unify our country.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, raised concerns over Gupta’s financial interests, noting her millions of dollars of stock in Avantor, a company that, according to a Bloomberg report, sold acetic anhydride to Mexican drug cartels, which then used the substance to manufacture high-grade “china white” heroin and methamphetamine.
At the meeting, Cornyn displayed a jug of acetic anhydride that he said held enough of it to make millions of dollars worth of heroin.
Early at the meeting, ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, praised Gupta’s past work for criminal justice reform, but stated that he opposed her nomination for the associate attorney general role due to her history as a partisan progressive advocate.
Grassley noted that Gupta, on the one hand, would say that a controversial statement she has made was delivered on behalf of an organization, while, on the other hand, she asked the committee to look at her entire career as a civil rights lawyer and leader of organizations when they evaluate her nomination.
“Which is it then?” Grassley asked. “Do we look at what she did and said, or don’t we so look?
Durbin staunchly supported Gupta’s nomination, blasting Republicans for opposing her – particularly on the issue of police.
“She is extraordinary,” Durbin said. “She has the support of law enforcement groups any one of us would be proud to have and yet she continues to be labeled as soft on crime or wanting to defund police and there’s no truth to that whatsoever.”
The tie vote means that Gupta’s nomination can still advance to the floor, but first Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., or Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., must file a motion that would warrant a separate vote. Following that motion, the full Senate would hold a final vote on Gupta’s nomination.
In contrast to Gupta’s nomination, there was zero controversy over Biden’s nomination of Lisa Monaco to be deputy attorney general. The committee approved her selection through a voice vote, with no one opposed.