The Senate voted 52-46 along party lines on Thursday to confirm Rachel Brand to the No. 3 position at the Justice Department.
Ms. Brand, who has previously served in both the White House and the Justice Department, was confirmed as associate attorney general — making her the first woman to hold the job.
In the position, she will have oversight of the department’s efforts on civil and civil rights matters as well as the antitrust, tax and environment and natural resources divisions.
Democrats opposed her confirmation, questioning whether she could remain unbiased in her role given her prior work defending business interests at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“Like so many of the President’s nominees, she carries a heavily skewed, pro-corporate agenda that would do further harm to the Justice Department and its independence,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy in a statement issued this week. “Ms. Brand has long championed deregulation and the rolling back of vital environmental, consumer, and labor regulations protecting the American people.”
Ms. Brand was hired in 2011 to work at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Litigation Center as chief counsel for regulatory litigation. In 2012, she was tapped by then-President Barack Obama to serve as a member on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which is tasked with advising the president and administration officials on the civil liberties implications of the government’s spy and surveillance programs.
But Republicans defended her nomination, noting her nomination and approval for Senate-confirmed positions by both President George W. Bush and President Obama.
In the George W. Bush administration, Ms. Brand served as the DOJ’s assistant attorney general for legal policy and as associate counsel to the president.
“With her previous positions in the White House, Office of Legal Policy, and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, she has experience that touches almost every part of the federal government,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa Republican.
Addressing concern about Ms. Brand’s role at the U.S. Chamber, Mr. Grassley said she was never involved in any policy or lobbying efforts and that her representation of a position on behalf of a client shouldn’t be construed with her agreement that position.
“When she worked at the chamber, all her advocacy was done to represent the view of her client, the chamber,” said Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican. “If you hire a lawyer they are going to represent your view. We all know you can’t assume an attorney personally believes in what they are advocating on behalf of their client. Just ask criminal defense attorneys.”
But others saw that experience as an extension President Trump’s desire to curd federal regulations.
“She has extensive experience, years of experience, fighting on behalf of the biggest and riches companies in the world,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat. If she is confirmed to the number three spot at the justice department she can watch out for giant corporations from her perch right inside the government.”
The issue of whether Ms. Brand would recuse herself from matters involving the U.S. Chamber came up at her nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in March.
In a written response to questions, Ms. Brand said she took recusal questions “very seriously” and would follow established laws and consult ethics officials about any potential recusals.
Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said during the March hearing that Ms. Brand’s refusal to agree to recuse herself from any matters involving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as her refusal to address his questions on civil rights issues fueled his decision not to support her nomination.
In a written questionnaire, Ms. Brand declined to answer a series of Mr. Durbin’s questions about voting rights and the DOJ’s decision this year to reverse its position and ask for a judge to dismiss its earlier claim that a Texas voter ID law was enacted with the intention of discriminating against minority voters.
“Because that case involves pending litigation, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on it,” Ms. Brand wrote of the Texas case.