WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chairman on Tuesday rebuked Republican critics of one of President Joe Biden’s picks for a senior Justice Department post as the panel began a confirmation hearing for nominees for the department’s No. 2 and No. 3 jobs.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, in his opening remarks, called Republicans hypocritical for criticizing Vanita Gupta, Biden’s nominee as associate attorney general, after they “sat by silently while there was no Senate-confirmed associate attorney general for nearly three years” under former President Donald Trump.
“It is sad and pitiful that this exceptional nominee has been targeted by a right-wing dark-money organization which is running an ad on television that make patently false claims,” Durbin said.
The committee opened its confirmation hearing for Gupta, picked for the department’s No. 3 post, and Lisa Monaco, a former prosecutor who also served as homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to former President Barack Obama who is Biden’s pick for deputy attorney general, the No. 2 post. That job entails overseeing the department’s criminal and national security matters as well as its 93 U.S. attorneys spread around the country.
Gupta’s post oversees the department’s civil and civil rights divisions, as well as antitrust, environmental, grant-making and community policing matters.
Senator Chuck Grassley, the committee’s top Republican, raised questions about Gupta while signaling support for Monaco.
In her prepared opening statement released by the committee, Monaco said the Justice Department was at an “inflection point … as we battle violent extremism – foreign and domestic – and mounting cyber threats from nation states and criminals alike.” If confirmed, Monaco would help oversee the department’s investigation into the Jan. 6 deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump’s supporters.
“If confirmed, I will aggressively ensure that the Justice Department is independent from partisan influence,” Gupta said in her prepared opening remarks.
Both women have garnered support not only from Biden’s fellow Democrats but from some Republicans, though Gupta has drawn some opposition from some conservative activists over her liberal views on criminal justice reform and is expected to face a tougher confirmation battle than Monaco.
The committee previously approved Biden’s attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland, in a bipartisan 15-7 vote, and the Senate is expected to confirm him to the post as soon as Wednesday.
Now with the law firm O’Melveny & Myers, Monaco has extensive experience as a prosecutor and attorney on national security matters.
Monaco’s top legal clients have included Apple, ExxonMobil, Humana, Kia Motors Corp and Harvard University, which had been under investigation by the Trump administration over how it considers race during its student admissions process, according to her financial disclosure form.
Gupta previously served as acting assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, overseeing high-profile investigations into systemic abuses by police departments in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.
Grassley suggested he is inclined to support Monaco, saying he applauded Biden’s decision to nominate “a serious person” to the No. 2 position.
On Gupta, however, Grassley was more cautious. While he applauded her for working across the aisle previously, including with his office on criminal justice reform, Grassley also said he has concerns about her record of “strident liberal advocacy” and “partisan” attacks on Twitter against Republicans.
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