Senate Judiciary Committee Votes On Attorney General Nominee, Senator Jeff Sessions
The Attorney General of the United States has to be an independent voice for the rule of law, even though he or she is part of the President’s Cabinet. As Sen. Jeff Sessions himself said at his confirmation hearing, “[The Attorney General] cannot be a mere rubber stamp” for the President’s policies.
Events over the last week have raised serious questions about the ability of Senator Jeff Session to fulfill that independent role. In the first full week of his presidency, President Trump signed several sweeping executive orders and presidential memoranda, targeting Muslims, refugees, immigrants, and women seeking abortion in other countries. These executive actions raise new questions for his Attorney General nominee. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired for refusing to enforce Trump’s executive order banning people traveling from several predominately Muslim countries, which highlights concerns about Sessions’ own independence. Indeed, Yates’ termination reminded all of us of Sessions’ own questioning of Yates just 2 years ago, about whether she could stand up to the President if asked to do something unlawful. Because the orders reflect many of Sessions’ views, especially on immigration, it’s more than reasonable to ask whether Sen. Sessions would respond – and act – the same way that Sally Yates did.
Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a vote on Sessions’ nomination. Democratic Senators on the Committee took the time to make full and detailed statements, enumerating their many concerns about Sessions’ record. For example, Ranking Member Senator Dianne Feinstein, explaining her vote against Sessions, questioned whether or not he could be a truly “independent attorney general and not an arm of the White House.” Senators spoke so passionately and fully that the meeting ran over its scheduled time and was continued until today.
Unfortunately, the Senate Judiciary Committee today voted to advance Senator Sessions’ nomination to the full Senate, on a purely party-line vote. There was not an opportunity for Senators to further question Sessions on the important point of whether, as Senator Dianne Feinstein put it, he truly has “the independence and objectivity necessary for the position of attorney general.” Given the questions that still remain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should not rush to schedule a confirmation vote. The American people deserve answers.