Within an hour of the announcement that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) would be the president-elect’s pick for attorney general, Democratic groups were fully mobilized.
From an immigrants rights group: “Sen. Sessions’ nomination to attorney general is more evidence to why the Trump agenda must be fought. Individuals, local officials, and others must commit to non-cooperation at every level for the sake of our families and our democracy.”
From Democracy for America: “The handful of people who might be even less equipped than Jeff Sessions to dispense justice on behalf of the American people typically spend their weekends wearing pointy hats and burning crosses. Jeff Sessions was too racist to become a federal judge. In the 1980s.” The statement continued, “The idea that Jeff Sessions might become Attorney General is a genuine threat to our country and the lives and safety of people of color, Muslim Americans, women, and working families. We urge Democrats in the U.S. Senate to do everything in their power to air Jeff Session’s record of bigotry and derail his confirmation as Republicans work to jam it through.”
People for the American Way put out its own missive, which read in part:
The last time Senator Sessions sought Senate confirmation was 1986 when he was nominated to be a federal judge. Despite the fact that Republicans controlled the chamber at the time, he was rejected because of a long history of racially insensitive remarks and a disastrous record on civil rights.
In the last 30 years, Sessions has done nothing that demonstrates that the Senate’s judgement was incorrect or that he’s learned from his mistakes. Instead, he’s spent years making a name for himself as one of the Senate’s most extreme anti-immigrant voices, even attacking the Constitution’s guarantee of birthright citizenship. As a senator he’s voted in favor of torture programs under the Bush administration and opposed hate crime protections for LGBT people.
The pro-immigration group America’s Voice also weighed in:
Another day, another example of how President-elect Trump is filling the most powerful cabinet positions and senior White House posts in his Administration with white nationalists and anti-immigrant zealots. Senator Sessions is the most anti-immigrant Senator in the chamber. He has opposed sensible immigration proposals with incendiary language, consorts with hardline nativist groups and strongly supported the Alabama state immigration law that intentionally forced tens of thousands of Latinos out of the state – before a 2012 Supreme Court decision held such state laws to be unconstitutional.
When Sessions was nominated to serve as a federal judge some three decades ago, the U.S. Senate rejected him. Senators from both parties cited his racist comments, hostility towards civil rights groups and a temperament considered unworthy of a federal judge. He then was elected to the Senate by the people of Alabama. But being elected to the Senate by a popular vote is one thing; being confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be the nation’s top enforcer of the nation’s civil rights laws is another. The Senate should do what the Senate did 30 years ago and reject his nomination.
Republicans strongly deny Sessions is a racist, and point to his efforts to equalize penalties for crack and powder cocaine, a position which disproportionately benefits African Americans.
What’s all the shouting about and will it stop Sessions?
Sessions’ confirmation hearing will be the first big fight of the new administration. (If Rudy Giuliani gets the nod for secretary of state, that’ll be the second.) It is being waged just after an election in which Hillary Clinton failed to fully turn out the Obama coalition — African Americans, Hispanics, young voters, etc. This provides Democrats with the opportunity to re-energize their base and begin to chip away at the approval of a new president.
We don’t mean to suggest this is not a legitimate fight or that Democrats aren’t sincerely opposed to Sessions. Trump’s assumption that he could get anyone through the Senate may prove to be accurate, but had he done more consulting he might have found that Sessions is like a red flag in front of a bull.
The fourth-term senator has been dogged by accusations of racism throughout his career.
In 1986, he was denied a federal judgeship after former colleagues testified before a Senate committee that he joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he thought they were “okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.”
If we can expect the vast majority of the Senate Democrats to oppose Sessions, attention will then shift to the Republicans, the large majority of whom will certainly support him. Obvious targets are moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) (one of the few Republicans up for reelection in 2018).
We should also watch to see if civil libertarian groups are wary of his positions on deportation, criminal justice, intelligence surveillance and the rest. The American Civil Liberties Union which does not formally endorse nominees nevertheless made its views clear: “Sen. Sessions has called the ACLU un-American and communist, assertions we flatly reject. His positions on LGBT rights, capital punishment, abortion rights, and presidential authority in times of war have been contested by the ACLU and other civil rights organizations.”
Sessions, like Mike Flynn, is not a conciliatory pick or one that will win Trump plaudits from his critics on either side of the aisle. It is a base-engaging pick, a divisive pick, critics would say, on both sides. In all likelihood Sessions will be confirmed on close to a party-line vote; the question is how big a toll it will take on an administration barely getting its feet wet.