Daughter of ‘proud immigrants from India’ touts her lifelong record as a consensus and relationship builder.
Tweets by Vanita Gupta, President Joe Biden’s Indian American nominee for the No. 3 position at the Justice Department, are proving troublesome for her as they did for another Indian American, Neera Tanden.
But unlike Tanden, whose nomination for a position in Biden’s cabinet as his budget chief was torpedoed due to a hostile reception from both sides of the political divide, Gupta has more bipartisan support in the Senate.
Gupta, the nominee for Associate Attorney-General, apologized Tuesday for her tweets and statements that have driven Republican skepticism about her nomination, Politico reported.
“I regret the harsh rhetoric that I have used at times in the last several years,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee during its hearing on her nomination.
READ: List of Indian Americans in the Biden administration (January 2, 2021)
“I think the rhetoric has gotten quite harsh over the last several years and I have fallen prey to it. I wish I could take it back. I can’t,” said Gupta, a longtime civil rights lawyer who had a senior DOJ post under former President Barack Obama.
“I can pledge to you today that if I am confirmed, you won’t be hearing that kind of rhetoric from me,” she said without specifically identifying the tweets she regrets.
Republican lawmakers have accused Gupta of wanting to “defund the police” — a position Gupta says she rejects — and criticized her for a 2012 call to decriminalize possession of all illegal drugs, a position she says she no longer holds.
As Republicans trained their guns on Gupta, a prominent advocate for progressive police reform and civil rights, she described herself as “a lifelong idealistic civil rights lawyer” who is also “a deeply pragmatic person and a relationship builder.”
Sen. Mike Lee sparred with Gupta over her past statements, although without publicly reading or describing any specific comment she had made, Politico said.
He suggested she was asking for forgiveness for her overheated rhetoric while denying such understanding to some Trump nominees she opposed as a civil rights advocate.
“I am a believer in second chances and redemption, and I would ask for that today,” Gupta replied.
Gupta, currently the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, also denied claims that her past police reform efforts amounted to an attempt to defund law enforcement.
“I do not support defunding the police,” she was quoted as saying. “I have spent my career, where it has been necessary for greater resources for law enforcement and things like body-worn cameras as well as officer wellness and safety programs.”
The White House and Senate Democrats have loudly touted Gupta’s endorsements from police groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections, Politico noted.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the moderate face Gupta was putting forward at the hearing clashed with what he called her “almost unbroken record of partisan culture war that is in your resume.”
The ranking Republican on the panel, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said early in the hearing that he was troubled by a Gupta tweet in which she said of the 2020 Republican National Convention: “Don’t know if I can take three more nights of racism, xenophobia, and outrageous lies.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), describing himself as a personal friend of Gupta, spoke about the impact of Twitter on political dialogue.
“I do wonder about what Twitter has done to our culture and the snarkiness it seems to breed,” he said.
“To be honest with you, I do think that Twitter has been incredibly polarizing. I’ve played a role in it,” Gupta replied. “It does reward snark and polarization.” She said that, if confirmed, “you’ll be happy to know I won’t be tweeting in that way.”
She asked the senators to instead “look at my lifelong record” as a believer “in the importance of building consensus” and as “a deeply pragmatic person and relationship builder”.
In her opening statement to the committee, Gupta spoke of her immigrant background and the opportunities her family received in the US.
“My parents (Rajiv and Kamla Gupta) are proud immigrants from India, and they believe more than anything in the promise of America,” she said.
“Growing up, they taught me that loving this country brings with it the obligation to do the necessary work to perfect our union.”
“That belief is shared by my husband (Chinh Q. Le), whose family fled violence and war in Vietnam and sought refuge on these great shores,” she added.
Questioned about her commitment to religious freedom, Gupta said that she was from a family of faith and that her husband’s family had fled Vietnam to be able to practice their religion.
The conservatives are split on her nomination, with two groups running massive advertising campaigns for and against her.
Conservative groups fight over Indian American Vanita Gupta (March 2, 2021)
Meet Vanita Gupta, Biden’s pick for associate attorney general (January 8, 2021)