President Biden’s nomination of civil rights lawyer Vanita Gupta for the No. 3 position at the Justice Department has split conservatives, with right-leaning groups spending millions to both torpedo and boost her confirmation.
Critics blast her for Twitter posts and comments as a CNN and MSNBC guest, including accusing Republicans of “racism” and backing progressive policing policies, though these do not make her the most extreme far-left nominee from Mr. Biden.
A trio of conservative organizations say the remarks reveal her as a dangerous far-left “enemy” of law enforcement who will defund police departments and go soft on crime.
And yet, she garnered endorsements from law enforcement groups, including some that twice endorsed former President Donald Trump. Several leading conservative figures also support Ms. Gupta and say she has a track record of working with police departments and reaching across the aisle to find a common ground.
Her supporters include conservative activist Grover Norquist who praised her honesty, and willingness to work with others.
“I have come to know and respect Ms. Gupta through our common work on criminal justice issues. I have found her to be strongly qualified, effective, principled, and driven by a desire to seek common purpose and consensus,” he wrote.
Ms. Gupta, who ran the Civil Rights Division in the Obama Justice Department, will get a full Senate vote on confirmation as soon as next week.
Republicans are deciding how much her inflammatory comments should be held against her.
Ms. Gupta apologized for her comments last week during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and insisted they reflect who she says. Those opposed to her nomination say that’s not good enough.
After leaving the Obama administration, Ms. Gupta became head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and served as a commentator on CNN, MSNBC, and National Public Radio. It was during this time she launched a salvo of blistering political attacks.
Ms. Gupta took to Twitter during the 2020 Republican National Convention to blast it as three nights of “racism, xenophobia and outrageous lies.” During the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, she accused Republicans of ignoring the COVID-19 crisis to protect their power.
Ms. Gupta later called Ms. Barrett’s confirmation “illegitimate.”
She also scolded Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, tweeting that her support for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sends “a dangerous message” to survivors of sexual assault.
Those comments were enough for conservative advocacy groups Judicial Crisis Network, Heritage Action for America, and Americans for Public Trust to spearhead a media campaign to sink her nomination.
Judicial Crisis Network President Carrie Severino in an op-ed for Fox News ripped Ms. Gupta as an “extremist” liberal activist.
“It’s hard to think of a more radical selection than Vanita Gupta to be associate attorney general,” she wrote.
Ms. Severino seized on Ms. Gupta’s remarks last summer before the Senate Judiciary Committee when said all Americans have racial biases.
“I think we all have implicit bias and racial basis, yes I do,” she said.
The statement drew a strong rebuke from Sen. John Cornyn, who was so taken aback, he uttered “wow” before scolding her.
“You lost me when you wanted to take the acts of a few misguided, perhaps malicious individuals and ascribe that to all Americans,” he said.
At the same hearing, Ms. Gupta hinted at supporting defunding police departments, although she did not explicitly state she backs the controversial movement.
Instead, she said local departments must “fundamentally look at what kind of investments” are made in law enforcement. Ms. Gupta also said, “police reform is not going to solve the problem of police violence.”
“Is this who we really want developing and implementing federal and local law enforcement policy,” Ms. Severino wrote in response to those remarks.
Right-leaning supporters of Ms. Gupta include a coalition of moderate Republicans operating as Defending Democracy Together and political Mark Holden, the former senior vice president of Koch Industries and chairman of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity.
They say she should be judged on her actions, not her words. They say she has worked to bolster law enforcement and built a healthy relationship with local police departments during her stint at the Justice Department.
Supporters also painted her as someone willing to reach across the aisle willing to find a compromise with those who disagreed with her.
The National Fraternal Order of Police, which twice endorsed Mr. Trump, praised her for “an ongoing collaborative dialogue” with local police departments.
“Her open and candid approach has created a working relationship that is grounded in mutual respect and understanding,” wrote FOP President Patrick Yoes.
Defending Democracy Together, which was founded by conservative columnist Bill Kristol and author Mona Charen, launched an ad campaign in support of Ms. Gupta’s nomination.
The “Confirm Gupta” campaign is aimed at countering the accusations lobbed by her conservative opponents.
As part of the $1 million ad spree, the group ran a 30-second television commercial on cable news shows and Sunday political talk shows.
“Gupta has a record of building bridges across partisan divides,” the commercial says, slamming the effort against her as “playing politics.”
At a confirmation hearing last week, Ms. Gupta apologized for her tweets.
“I regret the harsh rhetoric that I have used at times in the last several years,” she said. “Perhaps, I think, the rhetoric has gotten quite harsh over the last several years and I have fallen prey to it and I wish I could take it back. I can’t, but what I can commit to you and ask that you do is look at my lifelong record.”
Ms. Gupta is treading a well-worn path of nominees tripped up by their past fiery or offensive rhetoric.
Mr. Trump in 2018 withdrew the nomination of Ryan Bounds to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals amid allegations of racist writings while in college.
Mr. Bounds had apologized for his remarks.
At the time, Ms. Gupta slammed the apology as one of “convenience” and not “remorse.”
When questioned if her apology should be accepted, Ms. Gupta repeated her regret for words.
“I apologize for the kind of course language I have used in the past,” she said.
Mr. Biden earlier this month pulled Neera Tanden, his pick to head the Office of Management of Budget for her controversial tweets. She had blasted Republicans and Democratic supporters of Bernie Sanders in controversial tweets.