- Ben Jealouspresident of People for the American Way and former president of the NAACP.
Republican senators in Washington are attempting to block Kristen Clarke, a prominent voting rights advocate, from a top Justice Department position. The Senate Judiciary Committee has deadlocked on an 11-11 vote on whether to move Clarke’s nomination for assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to the Senate floor for a full vote. If she wins the vote, Clarke, who has served as the head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and is a longtime champion of voting rights, a defender against hate and violent extremism, would be the first Black woman to hold the position. Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way and former president of the NAACP, says the campaign against Clarke’s nomination is based on falsehoods, including baseless claims of anti-Semitism. “The way that they’ve lied about her really is a new low,” Jealous says, who links Republican obstruction to the party’s larger assault on voting rights.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.
As Republican state lawmakers in Georgia, Florida and Texas are passing voter suppression laws, Republican senators in Washington, D.C., are attempting to block one of the nation’s most prominent voting rights advocates from a top Justice Department position. In an 11-to-11 vote Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked on whether to move attorney Kristen Clarke’s nomination for assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to the Senate floor for a full vote. No Republicans voted in her favor. Republican Senator Mike Lee tried to suggest Clarke is associated with people who hold anti-Semitic views. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden [sic] said, quote, “I don’t think there’s an anti-Semitic bone in Kristen Clarke’s body.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can still move to discharge her nomination out of the committee for a debate and floor vote, as he did for Vanita Gupta, who has since been confirmed as Biden’s associate attorney general and is the first woman of color and first civil rights lawyer to serve in the position. If Clarke’s nomination is successful, she will be the first Black woman to lead the Civil Rights Division.
For more, we’re joined by Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way, former president of the NAACP.
Ben, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what needs to happen right now. So, the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocks, but this can still move to the Senate floor, the vote on Kristen Clarke to head the Civil Rights Division, can’t it?
BEN JEALOUS: Yes. And that’s what Chuck Schumer will have to do. He’s just going to have to move this to the floor for a vote. The Republicans are voting on partisan lines, apparently because they are trying to suppress voting rights across the country. And if that’s the case, then the last thing you would what is an esteemed voting rights advocate leading the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. DOJ.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the hearing that took place. Talk about what Kristen Clarke represents and why you feel it’s so critical that she be confirmed.
BEN JEALOUS: The attacks on her were a new low. You had Senator Cruz accusing her of lying by lying. He pretended that the words of the poet Amiri Baraka were her own words, when she had simply forwarded an email with a submission from him to a student magazine, just passing it on to her colleagues. He then read what the poet said, and pretended that it was Kristen Clarke saying that. I mean, that’s the type of stuff that we’ve been dealing with, has just been lie after lie after lie.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, who immediately responded to the Republican Utah Senator Mike Lee’s accusation of anti-Semitism.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: I think — as Merrick Garland said when he was here, I think I know anti-Semitism when I see it. I think this charge about anti-Semitism is just very regrettably false. Even to raise it is unfortunate. There’s no basis for it in the record. In fact, I don’t think there’s an anti-Semitic bone in Ms. Clarke’s body, judging by her record.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Connecticut Senator Blumenthal, who said there’s not an anti-Semitic bone in Kristen Clarke’s body. We had said it was Senator Wyden before. But to raise that issue, talk about what Kristen Clarke represents, through the years what she has done, especially in light of the hundreds of voter suppression bills that are being voted on around the country.
BEN JEALOUS: She’s a civil rights lawyer’s civil rights lawyer. She has made a name for herself fighting hate crimes, fighting employment discrimination and sexual harassment, and, most notably, fighting for the right of every person in this country to participate in free and fair elections.
In this moment, we’re seeing the greatest rise in voter suppression legislation since Jim Crow, which is to say something, because we said the same thing 10 years ago, but this time it’s actually worse. And her coming into the U.S. Department of Justice at this moment would really strengthen the hand of the department, which was gutted by Trump, to fight voter suppression across this country.
Kristen is one of the most even-tempered, even-handed, most dedicated people to defending the U.S. Constitution that you’ll ever meet. And the way that they have lied about her really is a new low. This is somebody who has avoided controversy, if you will, simply by being absolutely decent every day of her life. She doesn’t excite easily.
And, you know, one of the things that hurt me most was seeing them trot out the widow of the officer that Mumia was convicted of killing, to say that Kristen was anti-white. It was the craziest thing. Meanwhile, we’re sitting there recording video of white women talking about Kristen as their savior on the job because she fought against the sexual harassment and sexual discrimination that they were subjected to for years. But again, they will lie as they call her a liar. It’s really the worst hearing I’ve seen in a very long time.
AMY GOODMAN: So, we don’t have much time left, but her position to head the Civil Rights Division, if she is confirmed, not only deals with issues like voting rights, but also consent decrees for police departments, is that right?
BEN JEALOUS: Yeah, the special prosecution of police officers is handled by this office, as well. And, you know, you see the U.S. — you see Republicans in the U.S. right now, their leaders in Congress, apparently very worried that the U.S. Department of Justice, under Joe Biden, will get back to actually administering justice. And that’s why they’ve been so fierce in trying to stop Ms. Gupta and now Ms. Clarke.
AMY GOODMAN: And we just have 10 seconds, but what do you understand the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will do?
BEN JEALOUS: He will move this to the floor for a vote. He has to. The Republicans, quite frankly, are just lying again and again and again and not really doing their job.
AMY GOODMAN: Ben Jealous, I want to thank you for being with us, president of People for the American Way, former president of the NAACP.
And that does it for our show. A very Happy Birthday to Erin Dooley! Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Adriano Contreras. Our general manager is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.