At least three Senate Democrats are undecided on President Joe Biden’s pick to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as the White House seeks to save the nomination and avoid another high-profile defeat.
Ed Gonzalez was accused of domestic abuse of his wife in a 2021 police affidavit, though both deny the allegations. Democrats asked party leaders to delay the floor vote on his nomination last week to have more time to look into the accusations, according to senators and aides.
The uncertainty will last beyond a week. Both Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) said Tuesday that they were undecided about Gonzalez and planned to spend more time reviewing the allegations against him. Similarly, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) supports the Homeland Security Committee taking more time to investigate and will consider the findings of the panel charged with overseeing Gonzalez's nomination before making a decision, according to a spokesperson.
“As chair of the committee, I pulled the vote down,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the Homeland Security panel. “We’re in the process of getting any information, trying to verify what has been presented and see whether or not that’s accurate or not. We’re going to let the facts drive the next move and we’re still in the process of collecting those facts.”
Gonzalez’s turbulence follows Monday’s airing of bipartisan opposition to Federal Reserve board pick Sarah Bloom Raskin, blowback sufficient to scuttle her nomination Tuesday. And Democrats are closely watching Eric Garcetti’s nomination as U.S. ambassador to India, which Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is holding to investigate the Los Angeles mayor’s assertions that he was unaware of sexual harassment and assault allegations against a key adviser.
Raskin’s withdrawal marks one of the highest profile rejections of a Biden nominee. Manchin also opposed Neera Tanden as Biden’s budget director, and Democratic moderate opposition scuttled the confirmation of ATF director hopeful David Chipman. While Biden has successfully moved most of his high-profile nominees, the turmoil surrounding Raskin, Gonzalez and Garcetti has the White House laboring to prevent any more confirmation stumbles in the 50-50 Senate.
The White House is still behind Gonzalez, the sheriff of Harris County, Texas, but he currently doesn’t have the votes to advance.
“Sheriff Gonzalez is an extraordinarily qualified law enforcement professional with 30 years’ experience,” said White House spokesperson Chris Meagher. “He has a proven track record of implementing progressive solutions to difficult problems, while coordinating with federal partners, including ICE, to make Harris County Texas safer, and he should be confirmed without delay.”
Even with Raskin’s failure, Biden’s nominees are withdrawing at rates in line with other recent presidencies. Just Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Shalanda Young to the Office of Management and Budget, the first Black woman to lead the agency. And former President Donald Trump suffered several embarrassing defeats of his nominees, from Federal Reserve prospects to his first Labor secretary pick to some lower-level judges.
“By the standards of the Senate, there are usually two or three that fall by the wayside. It’s not unusual at all,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
Still, given the rising number of crossings at the southern border with Mexico, many senators want a permanent, Senate-confirmed ICE director. But Democrats have little room for error on Gonzalez’s nomination, after he received no Republican support in committee.
GOP senators cited his record as sheriff on immigration when they opposed him in committee, citing his decision to end Harris County’s participation in a program that allowed for more coordination between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But now, the allegation is dominating Gonzalez floor vote.
“The Democrats also had questions as well,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the government operations and border management subcommittee. “There’s Republicans and multiple Democrats that had questions, or else it wouldn’t have been pulled.”
Some Democratic senators predicted that the domestic abuse allegations wouldn’t necessarily defeat Gonzalez's nomination, given that his wife has publicly said they’re false and the affidavit appeared in a lawsuit unrelated to the accusations against him. The sworn report described a third individual coaching Gonzalez's wife on how to report the alleged abuse, and also said the officer who wrote the affidavit was wearing a body camera at the time. Lankford said that could prove decisive for Gonzalez.
“Somebody needs to see it … Because if [the police officer is] giving a false report, that’s serious for his career obviously. If he’s giving an accurate report that needs to be known as well,” Lankford said. If Gonzalez says it’s false, he added: “Great. Let’s verify it all and move on.”
Democrats seem more confident about Garcetti. Grassley has a hold on his nomination, which would require Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to burn valuable extra floor time to confirm him. But Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he did not expect that to spell trouble for Garcetti’s effort to get 50 votes.
“Mayor Garcetti has been clear that he takes any allegations of harassment very seriously and has made clear this type of misconduct is unacceptable in his office in any form,” Meagher said. “He has also said that he never witnessed this behavior nor was told about it prior to the litigation. The President has confidence in Mayor Garcetti and believes he’ll be an excellent representative in India.”
In addition to the shaky nomination status of Garcetti and Gonzalez, progressive groups are also lining up against Jennifer Rearden’s nomination to become a district court judge for the Southern District of New York, citing her record on labor and housing cases. Rearden was first nominated to the vacancy by former President Donald Trump.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday progressives “have been satisfied” about her record and “misunderstood her role in some litigation that her firm carried.”
And in a potentially bright spot for Gonzalez’s nomination, moderate Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) emphasized that “both he and his wife have said nothing ever happened.” He added that he’ll review any new information and go from there.
Until that information is finalized, Gonzalez’s nomination will remain in limbo until 50 Senate Democratic votes materialize. And with five Democratic senators seeking reelection in competitive states, it's become a problematic vote absent more information.
“We were talking about some of the allegations and it became a non-issue when it got pulled,” said Kelly, who is running for reelection. “So, we’ll see what happens with it going forward. ... I have not looked at the details. I will do that, assuming it comes back to the floor.”