Kristen Clarke, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said at her confirmation hearing on Wednesday that she does not support defunding the police as Republicans accused her of partisanship and grilled her for past advocacy and publications.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), asked Clarke about her op-ed in Newsweek, headlined: “I Prosecuted Police Killings. Defund the Police—But Be Strategic.”
“Do you still believe it is a good idea to defund the police?” Cruz asked.
“I do not support defunding the police,” Clarke replied, adding that “the impetus for writing that op-ed was to make clear that I do not support defunding the police.” She added that she argued for resources to be channeled to areas like mental health aid in order to “alleviate some of the burdens that we place on the doorstep of law enforcement.”
In the article Clark addressed the “defund the police” motto, noting that, in practice, it has ranged from calls for reducing policing budgets to complete police abolition.
“I advocate for defunding policing operations that have made African Americans more vulnerable to police violence and contributed to mass incarceration, while investing more in programs and policies that address critical community needs,” she wrote.
“We must invest less in police” and more in social workers and in mental health aid, she argued in the piece, while calling for an immediate cut of the federal “1033 program,” under which police departments have received billions in tactical equipment from the Defense Department, such as vehicles and riot gear.
She argued in the article for the need to be “smart and strategic about how and where we look to ‘defund the police.’”
At the same time, she wrote that “defund the police” had become “a unifying call from the Black Lives Matter movement,” something that Cruz took issue with.
“Do you really believe that ‘defund the police’ is a unifying call?” he asked.
She responded by reiterating that she doesn’t support defunding the police, adding that she sought, in the article, to “provide a different perspective.”
“I don’t support taking resources from the police and putting communities in harm’s way,” she added.
Cruz said he found her response “astonishing” and “frankly, not credible,” before quoting from the article her words: “we must invest less in police.”
“You just told this committee that you don’t support investing less in police. How do you square those?” Cruz said.
In a tense back-and-forth, Clarke said the title of the op-ed had been chosen by editors and that she wrote the article “without the power of the purse,” adding that she supports President Joe Biden’s plan to invest $300 million in community policing.
Cruz also took aim at her advocacy work, pointing to reports that, while in law school, she helped organize a conference “with speakers who referred to convicted cop killers as political prisoners.”
“Do you support those who murder police officers as heroes and political prisoners?” Cruz asked.
Clarke replied by saying she didn’t organize the conference but only played a supporting role in providing logistical support, before adding, “I do not celebrate the loss of life.”
Cruz later said, “as I look at your record, I see the record of someone who has spent a career as a partisan.”
Democrats, meanwhile, staunchly defended her record.
“People are trying to say you’re wrong for this job when, dear God, you are what we need in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), called accusations that Clarke is anti-police “false” and claims by her critics that she is anti-Semitic based on a speaker she invited to an event at Harvard decades ago “absurd.”
“Ms. Clarke has been a strong defender of human rights,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.