Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted Wednesday to confirm Vanita Gupta to the No. 3 position at the Justice Department, blowing up her party’s effort to make Democrats solely own the confirmation.
Senate Republicans have spent weeks speaking out against Gupta, describing her as a “radical” who would defund the police. They’ve also criticized her past statements on decriminalizing drugs and heavily signaled that their entire 50-member conference would stay unified against her. Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in the Senate on Wednesday ahead of a preliminary vote on Gupta, indicating widespread expectations that the nomination would require the first tie-breaking vote of the Biden administration.
But Murkowski, who voted to convict Donald Trump in the former president’s second impeachment trial, had other plans. During floor remarks ahead of a final vote, the senator said that after meeting with Gupta, she was impressed by “the passion that [the nominee] carries with her with the work that she performs” and said Gupta is “deeply committed to matters of justice.”
Among the issues Murkowski discussed with Gupta was domestic violence and sexual assault, particularly against Native women — a major priority for the Alaska Republican.
“I felt that I was speaking to a woman who had not only committed her professional life to try to get the base of these injustices, to try to not just direct a little bit of money, put a program in place, and walk away and call it a day,” Murkowski said, “But to try to truly make a difference.”
Gupta had unanimous support from Senate Democrats, who praised her credentials and were quick to note her endorsements from several law enforcement groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed former President Donald Trump twice. Gupta also has backing from Grover Norquist and Bill Kristol.
While Gupta’s nomination was never in jeopardy, Murkowski’s vote to confirm her was a surprise. Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had warned that Gupta could be the first Biden nominee whose confirmation could fall along party lines. In the end, she was confirmed 51-49.
Gupta’s bipartisan confirmation came after Senate Republicans, including Murkowski, unanimously voted last week against discharging Gupta from the Judiciary Committee, which deadlocked 11-11.
During her floor remarks, Murkowski said that when meeting with Gupta, the nominee spoke about the pressures associated with her confirmation.
“Is this worth it?” Murkowski asked her GOP colleagues. “Because this has been, clearly, very hard on her as a nominee. And she paused and reflected a moment and just spoke to how she feels called to serve in a very personal way that I thought was impactful.”
Gupta was previously president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She also was head of the civil rights division under former President Barack Obama. She will be the first woman of color to serve as associate attorney general.