On Wednesday—as the Senate Judiciary Committee held its confirmation for Kristen Clarke to be assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division—Senator Ted Cruz (TX-R) blasted her for her previous calls to defund the police. Cruz also engaged in a fight with Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (IL-D), telling Durbin: “I’m not going to allow her to filibuster.”
Cruz kicked off his criticism by saying: “Ms. Clarke, as I look to your record, I see the record of someone who has spent a career as a partisan advocate. Last year, you wrote an op-ed in Newsweek entitled, ‘I Prosecuted Police Killings. Defund the Police, But Be Strategic.’ Do you still believe it is a good idea to defund the police?”
“I do not support defunding the police,” Clarke replied. “The impetus for writing that op-ed was to make clear that I do not support defunding the police, and I spent considerable time talking about the need to challenge resources to places such as mental health treatment, alleviate some of the burdens we place on the doorstep of law enforcement so the issues we ask them to wrestle with that are outside their core competency, but if —”
“Ms. Clarke, we have limited time,” Cruz interjected. “You say you don’t support defunding the police. You just said it twice. The title of your article was ‘Defund the Police,’ but let’s not just look to the title; your article begins by saying that the national protests we saw last year ‘opened up space for transformative policy discussions.’ You then continue to write, ‘Into that space,’ — and this is a quote — ‘Into that space has surged a unifying call from the Black Lives Matter Movement: Defund the police.’ Do you really believe ‘defund the police’ is a unifying call?”
“I don’t support defund the police,” Clarke repeated, seeming to lend a deaf ear to what the senator was drawing attention to.
“I’m reading from your article,” Cruz pressed. “Do you disagree with your article?”
“Amidst the demonstrations and protests, I wanted to provide a different perspective,” Clarke answered. “I don’t support taking away resources from police and putting communities in harm’s way. There’s a rise in hate crimes and extremism —”
“Ms. Clarke, you know you’re testifying under oath here,” Cruz warned.
“Senator Cruz, please allow her to answer,” Durbin interrupted.
“Well, I’m not going to allow her to filibuster,” Cruz fired back. “When I ask a question, if she wants to answer a question that I asked, she can do so.”
“She should be allowed— I hope you’ll show respect to the witness,” Durbin fired back.
“I will show respect to every witness, but we also have limited time, as you’re aware, and you’ve been on this committee long enough to know that witnesses, in avoiding questions, will try to filibuster on different topics,” Cruz replied. “So I’m going to ask questions, and I’m going to expect answers to the questions I ask, and I understand the Chairman wants to jump in and defend the witnesses but that’s your prerogative to try to do so.”
“I will defend witnesses on either side and members on either side,” Durbin claimed. “We will be respectful in this committee. I hope that all members —”
“I hope and expect the same standard will be applied to senators on both sides,” Cruz stated, turning back to Clarke. “Now, let’s return to, you just said you don’t support cutting funds from police. I find that astonishing, and frankly, Ms. Clarke, not credible, because I’m holding the article you wrote, rote, and I actually pulled out a highlighter and highlighted the beginning of each paragraph going through, and about midway through, you have a paragraph that says, ‘We must invest less in police and more in social workers.’ The next paragraph says, ‘We must invest less in police and more in social support to our schools.’ The next paragraph begins, ‘We must invest less in police and more in mental health aid.’ Three paragraphs in your article you begin with the words, ‘We must invest less in police,’ and you just told this committee under oath you don’t support investing less in police. How do you square those?”
“If I may, Senator, I support the fact that President Biden is committing 300 million new dollars for the COPS program, 300 million new dollars for resources to the police,” Clarke protested. “I wrote that op-ed without having the power of the purse-string behind me and talked about how we can allocate a limited pool of resources in a more effective way.”
“So do you believe you were wrong last year when you called for defunding the police and investing less in the police?” Cruz asked.
“It’s a poor title chosen by the editor,” Clarke said, again, deflecting giving a definitive answer.
“Not just a title; it’s your text,” Cruz pointed out. “‘We must invest less in police.’ Three paragraphs you begin with those words. You wrote those words. Would you agree with those words today?”
“Without the power of the purse-string I wrote those words,” Clarke repeated. “But President Biden is committing more resources to police and I think that’s a great thing, Senator.”