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Republicans are aware that such pushback carries political risk, and some are openly sensitive to it as they insist they’re focusing on the two nominees’ liberal records regarding issues like police reform, voting rights and gun control. During Gupta’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), another potential presidential candidate, probed her views on implicit bias and asked if someone can “oppose the nomination of a woman or a racial minority on the merits without being racist or sexist.”
All of Biden’s Cabinet nominees have gotten confirmed with at least some Republican support, including former Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), the first Native American in the Cabinet. But his sub-Cabinet nominees, particularly those with backgrounds at progressive groups, could see significant partisan jockeying over their confirmations.
One future test case will be David Chipman, Biden’s pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who’d be joining the administration from the gun control group Giffords. He could face substantial GOP opposition thanks to his role in advocating for tougher gun laws. Cotton recently tweeted that Chipman is “a gun grabber who believes in wild conspiracies.”
For her part, Gupta is on track to become Biden’s first nominee confirmed with no Republican votes in the 50-50 Senate, possibly requiring a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris. The Senate voted Thursday to move forward on Gupta’s nomination after the Judiciary Committee deadlocked 11-11, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, vowing she would be confirmed.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary panel, has called Gupta a liar after she said at her hearing that she did not support decriminalizing all drugs. He later cited a 2012 article she co-wrote that said “states should decriminalize simple possession of all drugs, particularly marijuana, and for small amounts of other drugs,” to which Gupta responded that her position on the issue “evolved.”
Both Gupta and Clarke have faced sharp GOP questions about defunding the police. Gupta said in June that state and local leaders should “heed calls from Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives activists to decrease police budgets and the scope, role and responsibility of police in our lives.” The Biden administration said Gupta was reflecting the views of the civil rights group she has led, and Gupta told senators that she did not support defunding the police.
Cruz also dinged Clarke over an op-ed she wrote entitled “I Prosecuted Police Killings. Defund the Police — But Be Strategic.” Clarke said that headline did not represent the piece and said she does not “support taking away resources from police.”
Clarke faced further Republican criticism for an op-ed she wrote as a student at Harvard University that listed baseless theories for why Blacks are genetically superior to whites. But that line of attack later cooled after Clarke made clear that her writing was designed as a satirical response to the “racist theory” that underpinned a 1994 book called The Bell Curve.
Despite the turbulence they’re facing from Republicans, both nominees are likely to get confirmed. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who introduced Gupta to the Judiciary panel, described her as an “honest broker.”
“Is she a Democrat? Sure she is,” Kaine said. “And I voted for a lot of people who are really partisan Republicans — they were going to share President Trump’s philosophy, not mine. But if they had a track record that said they were professionals, I voted for a lot of them.”
Indeed, Republicans concede that there is little they can do to stop the nominees. But Cornyn said that he’s planning to reach out to moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose opposition to Tanden helped derail her, to express his concerns.
“Sometimes we’ve seen,” Cornyn said, “a lot of time and effort spent on one nominee, and then everybody’s exhausted. And somebody else slips on through with basically unanimous support.”