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Mitch McConnell takes to Senate floor to criticize Rachael Rollins as her US attorney confirmation vote stalls

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke to reporters after a Republican strategy meeting at the Capitol on Tuesday.J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday took to the Senate floor to criticize Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, characterizing her as “soft on crime” in an escalation of the Republican campaign against her nomination to be the next US attorney for Massachusetts that drew rebuttals from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

In the speech, the Kentucky Republican slammed a slate of Democratic policies and described the Biden administration’s approach as “soft on crime, heavy on indulging far-left fads.”

“Currently deadlocked in the Judiciary Committee is the nomination of Rachael Rollins, a would-be US attorney who has a national reputation for being soft on crime during her time as a prosecutor. In her current role as the district attorney, the nominee has said that prosecutors in her jurisdiction should — listen to this — decline to prosecute a whole laundry list of crimes,” McConnell said. “From shoplifting to trespassing to drug possession with the intent to distribute, Ms. Rollins wants her county to be a place where these crimes get free passes.”


Rollins “remains humbled by her nomination and looks forward to the confirmation proceeding,” a spokesman for Rollins said in a statement.

“She is grateful for the support of Senators Warren and Markey and the Democrats of the Senate Judiciary Committtee. DA Rollins remains focused on making sure that Boston continues to be one of the very few major cities in the nation where violent crime is down,” the statement continued.

Rollins has taken on a progressive position as district attorney, declining to prosecute a slate of low-level, nonviolent crimes that she contends lead to excessive incarceration that has a disproportionate toll on people of color. That approach has become a focus of condemnation for Republican senators, who last month opposed Rollins’s confirmation during a key committee vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee was deadlocked on her nomination, which forces Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to hold an additional vote by the full Senate. If Rollins is confirmed, she would become the first Black woman to hold the job in the state’s history.


Republican Senator Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, told the Globe Tuesday that there had been some outreach to him from people in the state about supporting Rollins’s nomination but he had not decided yet how he would vote. He didn’t sound inclined to support her.

”I must admit what I’ve seen so far is very troubling and I’m very disturbed with the nomination, but I have not made a final decision because I haven’t really studied it in depth,” the Utah senator said.

Warren and Markey came to Rollins’s defense on Twitter Tuesday, accusing McConnell and others of mischaracterizing Rollins’ record.

In a series of tweets, the Democrat-led Senate Judiciary Committee denounced McConnell’s Tuesday comments and praised Rollins, saying she “has worked closely with law enforcement to keep neighborhoods safe, rebuild trust between police and communities, and pursue justice for crime victims — earning her the support of law enforcement leaders across Massachusetts. That’s not someone who is ‘soft on crime.’”

“So what is this really about? By abandoning 30-year precedent for voice voting U.S. Attorneys, Republicans are disrespecting the role of home-state Senators in helping choose chief law enforcement officers, and disregarding the vital role that USAs play in our justice system,” read another tweet.


The campaign against Rollins’s nomination has been led by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican, who has vowed to block her confirmation and forced a delay on the vote in September to rally his colleagues against her. At the vote, Cotton brought large placards that criticized Rollins’s record and statements and called her a prosecutor “in name only.”

Rollins spoke out about Cotton’s attacks on her record, telling GBH earlier this month that it was “surreal” to hear his comments. She added that she remains optimistic about the prospect of her confirmation.

“I remain optimistic, and look forward to the confirmation in the full Senate,” Rollins said.

Jim Puzzanghera of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.