April 8, 2021
On Thursday, March 25, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to confirm civil rights lawyer Vanita Gupta to a key post in the Department of Justice ended in a deadlocked vote. The committee of 22 senators — 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans — voted along party lines. Just weeks earlier, on March 2, Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, tendered her withdrawal from the confirmation process after a lengthy and vicious partisan debate.
Both Tanden and Gupta’s nominations weren’t a surprise: they were early announcements in the Biden-Harris transition plan (even prior to inauguration), and — of the numerous South Asian Americans tapped by the administration — among the most senior. What was more surprising was the discourse that marred the nominations, which was not about the nominees’ experience and qualifications, but rather about their tweets.
The most contentious — and most scrutinized — of Biden’s picks also happen to be women of color. Apart from Gupta and Tanden, Deb Haaland, who has since been confirmed as Secretary of the Interior and is the first person of Indigenous descent to hold a cabinet position, faced massive Republican pushback for her stances against fossil fuels, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and criticism of the GOP. Kristen Clarke, nominated to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division (the post Gupta held in the Obama administration), has come under fire in recent weeks for her criticisms of law enforcement. (Her confirmation hearing is yet to be scheduled.)