Alabama Senator Jefferson ‘Jeff’ Sessions was called before a Senate Committee for his confirmation hearing for his pending appointment to United States Attorney General as part of the Trump administration on January 10. The hearing took place amidst much controversy, with protesters having to be removed from the room before and during the hearing.
Sessions is an Alabama senator of twenty years with a streak of high margin victories, having gotten at least 59 percent of the popular vote in all but his initial election in 1996, even running unopposed in the 2014 election. He was one of the first congressmen to publicly endorse Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, and acted as a close advisor during the subsequent campaign trail. This record, as well as his experience as an Alabama US Attorney and Attorney General, led to his nomination as Trump’s Attorney General in his cabinet.
The senators leading the session questioned Sessions on his qualifications and beliefs as they would apply to the position, with focus on his ability to act for the law, and not the administration. Sessions reassured them that he believed the Attorney General “must be willing to tell the president or other top officials ‘no’ if they overreach.”
Other questions were posed about Session’s ability to put personal beliefs as a devout Christian aside, and enforce laws regardless of whether he agreed with them. Session tried to assuage these concerns by stating that he would follow the law in letter and spirit, regardless of his own beliefs.
Sessions was further asked about allegations of racism, stemming from an incident during a previous hearing in 1986 when he sought to become a Federal judge, where testimony from co-workers and contemporaries was brought forward of remarks and criticisms he had allegedly made of a racist nature, stating,
“I didn’t know how to respond and didn’t respond very well. I hope my tenure in this body has shown you the caricature that was created of me was not accurate,” Sessions continued on to address past periods of racial discrimination in America. “I know that was wrong. I know we need to do better. We can never go back.”
In a surprise movement, Sessions also promised to recuse himself from any matters related to the Hillary Clinton email scandal, the prosecution of which has been vocally promised by the Trump election campaign pre-election, in order to avoid any potential allegations about bias in the prosecution.
He was also asked to elaborate on his policy for immigration, stating that he would prefer that religion and job skills be used, among other categories, to judge whether immigrants should be allowed to enter the country.
Other stated goals included a promised focus on getting rid of voter fraud, better enforcement of legal treatment for detainees in facilities such as Guantanamo, and further promises to unbiasedly support and uphold the law.
Reactions to his nomination have been mixed, with many accusations of racism and hate crimes levelled at Sessions, with many feeling, as stated by Heidi Beirich, a project director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, that his influence in the coming administration is “a tragedy for American politics.”
Many of Sessions’ contemporaries in the Senate were more hopeful,
Senator Collins of Maine quoted as saying, “I have never witnessed anything to suggest that Senator Sessions is anyone other than a dedicated public servant and decent man.”
Democratic senators have also been receptive to his nomination, given his previous willingness to compromise and work across party lines on bills as varied as changing drug sentencing laws and limiting military spending.
It remains to be seen whether Session’s nomination will be accepted or denied, with allegations still being levied of racism and discrimination, though a Republican majority in the senate, and the current tone of the hearings from both sides of the aisle, give favorable odds of success for the Senator.