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WASHINGTON - A bitterly divided U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday remained split over whether to approve the nomination of Vanita Gupta to be President Joe Biden's associate attorney general, with Republicans on the attack over her history of advocating for progressive policies.
The tie vote in committee was not seen as a setback for Gupta, because her nomination can proceed to the floor of the full Senate, which Democrats control. However, it will face an additional procedural hurdle before the Senate can formally vote to confirm her.
"Her public record is too extreme and her testimony hasn't helped me contextualize it in any meaningful way," ranking Republican Charles Grassley said on Thursday prior to the vote.
At the same committee hearing, Republicans and Democrats unanimously approved Biden's deputy attorney general nominee Lisa Monaco by voice vote without debate. She won praise from Grassley as being a "consummate professional."
Gupta, who previously headed the civil rights division during the Obama administration, fiercely criticized former President Donald Trump when she headed the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights advocacy group.
The Judicial Crisis Network recently started running television ads against her, incorrectly claiming Gupta told Reuters in a article in June that she supports defunding police - a statement she did not make.
Law enforcement groups back her nomination and a Republican anti-Trump group recently took out ads to bolster support for her among senators seen as possible swing votes.
Gupta apologized during her confirmation hearing for any past "harsh rhetoric" she has used against Republicans on Twitter.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin defended her against political attacks on Thursday, saying too many Senate Republicans "continue to spread baseless stories about her."
He posited that her opponents fear their own careers could be jeopardized by her efforts to enforce federal voting rights laws.
"If a woman with this strong a resume was being opposed by so many on the other side, I think she's touched a nerve by talking about voting rights," he said. "Far too many on the other side are set on curbing voting rights, rather than protecting and strengthening them."
Gupta is expected to win Senate confirmation after moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a crucial swing vote, told CNN this month he will likely back her nomination.
At Thursday's committee hearing, Republicans took roughly two hours to speak out against confirming Gupta, with Texas Republican Ted Cruz calling her a "zealot" whose record "does not reflect a fair and impartial temperament."
Durbin eventually cut Republican Senator Tom Cotton off in the middle of his remarks and called the vote over Republican objections. REUTERS