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GOP Senator Tom Cotton vows to block Rachael Rollins from being confirmed as US attorney

Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 25.
Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 25.Anna Moneymaker/NYT

WASHINGTON — Republican Senator Tom Cotton on Wednesday said he would try to stop Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins from being confirmed as US attorney for Massachusetts, the first lawmaker to publicly oppose her nomination.

Cotton, a conservative from Arkansas and potential 2024 presidential candidate, has been an outspoken critic of Democrats on crime. He linked Rollins, a criminal justice reformer, to policies he said have contributed to a jump in violent crime nationwide.

“Democrats have defunded police departments, stopped prosecutions for numerous crimes, ended cash bail, and demanded early release even for violent criminals,” he said in a written statement to the Globe. “These actions resulted in a historic increase in murders and contributed to the crime wave. Rachael Rollins won’t stand up for the victims of these crimes, and I will seek to stop her nomination.”

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President Biden on Monday nominated Rollins for US attorney, the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts. If confirmed by the Senate, she would be the first Black woman to hold the job in the state’s history.

Cotton serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will consider Rollins’s nomination. The Senate is evenly split and Democrats could confirm Rollins without any Republican support because Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie vote. But Cotton could use procedural maneuvers to try to block consideration of Rollins’s nomination. His spokesman said he was still exploring his options.

This spring, Cotton threatened to stall US attorney nominations from states represented by Democrats who serve on the Judiciary Committee after Democrats pushed through the confirmation of a top Justice Department official over Republican objections. The Senate voted 51-49 to confirm Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general, with one Republican joining all 50 members of the Democratic caucus. Republicans said Gupta had a radical record on criminal justice.

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Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey are not on the Judiciary Committee. They recommended Rollins for the US attorney’s job and both said Wednesday she should be confirmed as quickly as possible. The Judiciary Committee probably won’t take up the nomination until at least September and a Democratic aide on the panel said Cotton’s threat was a departure from longstanding precedent on US attorney nominations.

Warren said Rollins “will bring courage and creativity” to the job. And Markey said she “has the necessary experience, skill, and compassion to be a tremendous US Attorney.”

A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. A Rollins spokesman declined to comment.

Since her election as Suffolk district attorney in 2018, Rollins has pushed progressive reforms, such as declining to prosecute multiple low-level, nonviolent crimes that she argued helped lead to overincarceration, especially for people of color.

Cotton, on the other hand, said last week that the United States has an “under-incarceration problem.” He has hammered away at Democrats on criminal justice and blamed their policies for an increase in violent crime as he lays the groundwork for a potential run for the Republican presidential nomination.

In a speech last month in Iowa, which holds the first presidential nominating contest, Cotton said Biden was responsible for “a crime wave of unprecedented proportions.”

Andrea Estes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Jim Puzzanghera can be reached at jim.puzzanghera@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JimPuzzanghera.