Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin got into a heated exchange during Tuesday’s confirmation hearing for President Biden’s pick to fill the number three post at the Justice Department, simultaneously accusing each other of grandstanding.
Cruz sharply questioned associate attorney general nominee Vanita Gupta, accusing her of demonstrating “significant hostility to religious liberty.”
“Today’s Democratic Party has abandoned religious liberty,” Cruz told Gupta. “Indeed, the Equality Act, of which you are a vocal supporter…is a radical piece of legislation that among other things explicitly repeals significant aspects of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA),” he continued before asking her if she agreed with striping American’s religious freedoms.
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Gupta began by saying she is a “person of faith” and that her family is “one of deep and abiding faith.” But before she could finish her answer Cruz stopped her, asking her to specifically answer if she supported removing RFRA’s religious liberty protections.
Durbin jumped in before Gupta could respond and said, “Senator, if you want to make a speech, you may make a speech.”
Cruz fired back at Durbin, engaging in a heated back forth before the Texas Republican said, “I understand that you support her nomination, so you’re giving a speech, too. But I’m asking a question.”
Gupta sat silent as the two congressmen argued back and forth on permiting the nominee time answer her questioning.
Though once allowed to answer, Biden’s nominee frustrated Cruz more by not directly answering whether she supports repealing RFRA protections for religious liberty.
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“I support RFRA. I have enforced provisions of RFRA, and the Justice Department must enforce the law. The Justice Department enforces religious liberty and protects it,” she said, adding that the DOJ also protects against anti-discrimination laws, which would also be her duty to uphold.
The Equality Act — which passed in the House with full Democratic support, along with three Republicans who crossed party lines — has proven controversial amongst Republicans who fear it will infringe upon religious freedoms.
If passed in the Senate, the act would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Under the Equality Act, businesses and individuals would not be able to rely on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense for refusing a service to someone of the LBGTQ community.
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Several court cases have arisen in recent years alleging discrimination for a refusal of service, as in the case of a baker who refused to make a cake for a same sex marriage.
The fate of the bill surviving the senate is uncertain. Though Biden called for such a bill to be passed in the first 100 days of his administration, the Senate will need at least 60 votes in support, requiring 10 Republicans cross party lines to pass the bill.