Obama Lashes Out at 'Wildly Unfair Character Attacks' as DOJ Nominee Rejected in Senate

President Obama blasted senators, including several from his own party, who today blocked the nomination of his pick to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.

Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), John Walsh (Mont.), Chris Coons (Del.) and Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.) joined with Republicans to block the nomination, the first cloture failure since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) detonated the nuclear option.

Reid switched his "yes" vote to "no" at the last minute, allowing him to resurrect the nomination down the road.

The rebuke of Obama's pick came as Vice President Biden was presiding over the Senate, on hand to cast a tie-breaker vote that wasn't needed. Debo Adegbile went down 47-52.

Adegbile's nomination was hotly contested because of his defense of cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. Adegbile was the director of litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when it took up Abu-Jamal's case on appeal.

"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. Mr. Adegbile’s qualifications are impeccable," Obama said in a statement.

"He represents the best of the legal profession, with wide-ranging experience, and the deep respect of those with whom he has worked. His unwavering dedication to protecting every American’s civil and Constitutional rights under the law – including voting rights – could not be more important right now," the president continued. "And Mr. Adegbile’s personal story – rising from adversity to become someone who President Bush’s Solicitor General referred to as one of the nation’s most capable litigators – is a story that proves what America has been and can be for people who work hard and play by the rules. As a lawyer, Mr. Adgebile has played by the rules. And now, Washington politics have used the rules against him."

"The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice – and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant."

On the Senate floor this morning, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) propped up a large wedding photo of Abu-Jamal's victim, Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, slain in 1981.

Reid argued that Adegbile shouldn't be punished for guilt by association because he "didn’t step into one courtroom on behalf of the murderer."

But Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) noted in a floor speech that Adegbile's hands were plenty dirty. "As the Fraternal Order of Police stated in its letter of opposition, in the decades Mr. Adegbile pushed this effort, he 'falsely disparaged and savaged the good name and reputation of a lifeless police officer' in order to further his case," Flake said. "The National Narcotic [Officers] Association shares this analysis of Mr. Adegbile’s advocacy, noting that he 'fabricated a baseless and unproven defense while also defaming the victim, Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, which raises serious questions about the nominee’s judgment, especially considering the important position to which he has been nominated.'"

"I do not think we would be moving forward on such a divisive nominee – one who elicits widespread opposition from across the political spectrum – if the majority had not employed the nuclear option last November," added Flake.

The Republican National Committee promptly jumped on vulnerable Democrats who voted in favor of cloture, including Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Mark Begich (Alaska).

“This is an embarrassment for President Obama and the Democrats who thought it was a good idea to nominate a convicted cop-killer’s most ardent defender to head a DOJ Department and failed," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. "Vulnerable Democrats running in 2014 just voted to confirm a radical nominee whose positions on civil rights, religious liberty, voting rights and the Second Amendment are far outside the mainstream.”

Toomey, who with fellow Pennsylvania senator Casey rallied the coalition that brought down Adegbile, said "the Senate affirmed that our criminal justice system must never be abused to propagate a dishonest, radical agenda."

“Today is a good day for Pennsylvania, for America, and for those who believe in justice," Toomey said. "It was a hard fought victory to the end."