Eight Senate Democrats helped seal the fate for President Barack Obama’s controversial nominee to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The Senate voted Wednesday not to appoint Debo Adegbile with a final tally of 47-52, reports the Washington Post.
Opposition was expected from Republicans based on Adegbile’s participation in an appeal on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal in 2009. Abu-Jamal became internationally known after his conviction for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Adegbile’s work with the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund helped overturn the subsequent death sentence handed down in that case.
The polarizing nature of that case seems to have given some Democrats cold feet in moving ahead with Adegbile’s confirmation. The Obama administration, sensing the vote was going to be close, made sure that Vice President Biden was on hand to cast a tie-breaking vote had it been needed. With eight senators leaving the president’s side, though, it was not. The move infuriated Obama, who issued an angry statement following the vote.
"The Senate’s failure to confirm Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice is a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant,” the president wrote.
While Obama may have thought that Adegbile was a qualified candidate for the job, many Democrats felt the nomination was tone-deaf going into hotly contested midterm elections later in the year. A senior aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to the Washington Post, said several senators’ offices were “very angry” that the White House chose to move ahead with the potentially divisive nomination.
"It's a vote you didn't have to take. It's a 30-second ad that writes itself,” the aide said, speculating as to how the vote could be used against senators in upcoming races.
Most senators who cast the votes against Adegbile have not issued comments on their decision, but Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., did.
"There is no question that Mr. Adegbile has had a significant and broad career as a leading civil rights advocate, and would be an asset to the Justice Department, but at a time when the Civil Rights Division urgently needs better relations with the law enforcement community, I was troubled by the idea of voting for an Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights who would face such visceral opposition from law enforcement on his first day on the job,” he said in a Business Insider story.
Coons said it was the hardest vote he has had to cast since joining the Senate.