In partisan divide, Senate Judiciary Committee splits on Justice Department nominee Gupta

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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 tied vote in committee was not seen as a setback for Gupta, because her nomination can now 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 on Thursday, Republicans and Democrats unanimously approved Biden’s deputy attorney general nominee, Lisa Monaco, by voice vote without any 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 in her role as head of 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 are backing 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.

Despite the fierce opposition by some Republicans, Gupta is still expected to squeak by and win Senate confirmation after moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a crucial swing vote, told CNN earlier this month he will likely back her nomination.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Sonya Hepinstall