Saturday, May 26, 2018

Democrats to press attorney general pick as hearing opens

By on January 10, 2017

By Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is set to be questioned by his peers in a high-visibility Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.

Sessions is likely to stress his conservative legal credentials even as he works to persuade Democrats on the panel that he can be fair and even-handed as the country’s top law enforcement official.

A two-day hearing will feature testimony from the Alabama Republican on Tuesday, followed the next day by statements from witnesses who support and oppose his nomination.

In this Dec. 17, 2016, file photo, Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala cheers on the crowd during a President-elect Donald Trump rally at the Ladd–Peebles Stadium, in Mobile, Ala. There was one Alabama politician who had a very good year: Sen. Jeff Sessions. President-elect Donald Trump tapped Sessions to be his attorney general. Sessions was the first U.S. senator to endorse Donald Trump, lending conservative policy credentials to the billionaire businessman's populist campaign. Confirmation hearings for Sessions will begin next month. Sessions' rise set off a political chain reaction with a number of contenders hoping to take his place in the U.S. Senate. (Brynn Anderson, file/AP)

In this Dec. 17, 2016, file photo, Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala cheers on the crowd during a President-elect Donald Trump rally at the Ladd–Peebles Stadium, in Mobile, Ala. (Brynn Anderson, file/AP)

Democrats are expected to challenge Sessions’ commitment to civil rights, a chief priority of the Justice Department during the Obama administration. They also are likely to press him on his hard-line stance on immigration policy. But Republicans have expressed strong support and are expected to secure more than enough votes needed to confirm him, including from some Democrats in conservative-leaning states.

The Alabama lawmaker is known as one of the most staunchly conservative members of the Senate, and has already drawn opposition from at least two Democrats, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.

In a dramatic turn, Booker — one of three black senators — said he will testify against Sessions on Wednesday, marking a rare instance in which a senator has testified against a colleague seeking a Cabinet post. In a statement, Booker accused Sessions of having a “concerning” record on civil rights and criminal justice reform and called his decision “a call to conscience.”

If confirmed, the four-term senator would succeed outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch and would be in a position to dramatically reshape Justice Department priorities in the areas of civil rights, environmental enforcement and criminal justice.

Sessions was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and before that served as state attorney general and a United States attorney. He’s been a reliably conservative voice in Congress, supporting government surveillance programs, objecting to the proposed closure of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility and opposing as too lenient a 2013 bipartisan immigration bill that included a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

He will look to turn the page from a failed confirmation hearing in 1986, when his nomination for a federal judgeship was derailed by accusations he had made racially insensitive comments as a federal prosecutor.

Civil rights advocates have rallied against his nomination, with protesters staging a sit-in last week at a Sessions office in Alabama and circulating letters opposed to his nomination. Advocacy groups have drawn attention to positions from Sessions they fear could weaken legal protections for immigrants, minority voters and gays, lesbians and transgender people.

Sessions’ supporters have pointed to bipartisan work in the Senate and to supportive statements from some Democrats and even the son of a civil rights activist whom Sessions unsuccessfully prosecuted for voter fraud in Alabama. One of the two senators introducing him at Tuesday’s hearing is a moderate Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, suggesting a concerted effort to try to cement his appeal beyond the more conservative members.

Sessions may be asked whether the Justice Department would investigate again Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. Trump said during the campaign that he would ask his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton, but suggested after he won that he had changed his mind.

Witnesses on Wednesday include former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, NAACP President Cornell Brooks and David Cole, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.


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