Senate confirms Sessions as attorney general

The Senate voted Wednesday night to confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as attorney general, capping a vicious debate that left Democrats and Republicans alike seething at times.

No Republicans went against Sessions in the 52-47 vote. Sen. Joe Manchin(D-W.Va.) was the only Democrat to back Sessions.

While Republicans broke out into applause after the vote closed, Democrats largely stood silently. A handful of Democratic senators — including Manchin, Sen. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Bob Menendez (N.J.) — went over and shook Sessions’s hand after the vote. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who didn’t support Sessions, hugged him on the Senate floor.

The fight over Sessions escalated this week, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren(D-Mass.) read a letter that Coretta Scott King had written in 1986 that accused Sessions, a U.S. attorney at the time nominated for a federal judgeship, of using the power of his office to prevent blacks from voting.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) objected to Warren’s speech, saying she had impugned another member of the Senate. In a 49-43 vote, the Senate agreed, preventing Warren from speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

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Democrats accused McConnell of sexism for silencing a woman on the floor, and Warren went on a media blitz against the Republican senators and Sessions.

The tensions were on full display during the debate over Sessions’s nomination.

“We all know our colleague from Alabama. He’s honest,” McConnell said. “He’s fair. He’s been a friend to many of us, on both sides of the aisle.”

Democrats defended their criticism of Sessions’s record on issues of race and civil rights.

“When we make a big issue of the position of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions on the Voting Rights Act, it’s with good cause. It is historically an issue which has haunted the United States since the Civil War,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) — the No. 2 Senate Democrat — said ahead of the vote.

Republicans decried the Democratic tactics, arguing they were going to new lows to smear Sessions.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) — a long-serving Senate traditionalist — said Democrats are treating Sessions like a “terrible person,” urging his colleagues on Tuesday night to think of Sessions’s wife.

The fiery words in the last days of the debate over Sessions were somewhat surprising.

While the issue of race had always hung over the debate, Sessions is well-liked personally by many senators. That made the stinging words all the more noteworthy — and raises questions about the ability of lawmakers to work together going forward.

Sessions will now take over the Justice Department’s defense of President Trump’s controversial order barring people from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States. A former aide to Sessions was instrumental in the order’s writing, and Democrats argued the Alabama senator would not be a firm defender of an independent Justice Department.

“Senator Sessions is not a man apart from this agenda. He is not independent of [Trump’s] agenda,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Sessions only needed 50 votes to be confirmed.

Democrats changed the filibuster rules for presidential nominations when they held the Senate majority, eliminating the need for 60-vote majorities on procedural votes held for Cabinet and some judicial nominations.

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