The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing today. The committee went at it for three hours and is now taking a lunch break.
No one has yet laid a glove on the Alabama Senator. Only Al Franken went after him hard. The ex-comedian succeeded mainly in beclowning himself.
The hearings were interrupted several times by the screams of protesters. Their screeching only served to underscore the calm, collected demeanor of Sen. Sessions.
Before getting to Franken’s clash with Sessions, here a few of the highlights, such as they were.
Sen. Susan Collins gave a very nice introductory speech in favor of Sessions. As one of the Senate’s few moderates, her strong support of the nominee is very helpful.
Chairman Grassley took a shot at Eric Holder when he noted that Sessions has committed to saying “no” to the president when necessary instead of being the president’s “wing man,” as Holder described himself.
It won’t be easy to say “no” to Donald Trump. However, if any Attorney General is likely to do so, it is probably Sessions, a man of substance and stature and who comes from the legislative branch.
Sen. Durbin got into a little bit with Sessions over his vote against one version of an amended version of the Violence Against Women Act (Sessions supported the original version and an alternative act to amend it). The dispute came down to whether violence against women that occurs on Indian reservations at the hands of non-Indians should be prosecuted before tribal councils. Sessions was against this.
Durbin argued that the amendment, which passed, has worked well because no one has appealed a conviction. Sessions countered that, from the victim’s standpoint, there are serious questions as to whether prosecutions before the tribal councils have been effective.
Sessions won this round. In any case, if the best the Dems can do is to quibble about this kind of procedural matter, then Sessions is home and dry.
Lindsey Graham drew a laugh, as he generally does, when he said that Sessions’ confirmation will resolve “the age old question” of whether an Attorney General can be confirmed over the objection of 1,400 law professors. That’s the number of law profs who signed a weak public statement against Sessions. So far, there has been scant reliance on the profs’ statement by Democrats at the hearing.
Sessions promised to recuse himself from any consideration about whether to charge Hillary Clinton with a crime. Sen. Whitehouse asked Sessions whether, at any Trump rally, he had joined in the “lock her up” chant. Sessions said he didn’t think he had.
The Alabama man reiterated that he will recuse himself on matters relating to a possible prosecution of Clinton given the role of her possible criminality in the election campaign, where he was a strong Trump supporter, and given his call during the election for a special prosecutor in the matter.
In response to a question from Chairman Grassley, Sessions affirmed that his would be a true recusal, under the specific procedures that govern one, not the kind of “deferral” that Attorney General Lynch used.
Sen. Klobuchar seemed troubled that Sessions has referred to the Voting Rights Act as “intrusive legislation.” There is no doubt that the legislation is highly intrusive, and the nominee did not back down from that position.
However, he made it clear that the intrusion was warranted when the Act was passed by a dreadful history of racial discrimination especially in the South. Sessions emphasized how much good the legislation has done, and noted that he has voted to reauthorize it.
Sessions pledged vigorously to enforce the portions of the law that haven’t been struck down. Indeed, he promised to enforce all laws, including those with which he disagrees. The Voting Rights Act is not one of the laws he disagrees with.
As noted, Sen. Franken was the only Senator who really attacked Sessions. Virtually every Democratic Senator who questioned the nominee was able to cite an important piece of legislation on which he or she had collaborated with Sessions.
Franken did not. Whether this is because he hasn’t been willing or able to work across the aisle, as his colleagues have done, or because he is too churlish to acknowledge Sessions’ cooperation, I do not know.
Franken’s mission was to show that Sessions has “misrepresented” his record in bringing civil rights cases as a prosecutor. He relied on reporting and op-eds that have appeared in the Washington Post. He does not appear to have done any independent research or, as we shall see, to have given the matter any serious thought.
The first “misrepresentation” was a claim that Sessions made, apparently during an interview, that he brought 20 or 30 civil rights cases. In his written responses to the Committee, Sessions did not make this claim, saying instead that he brought “a number” of such actions.
Franken demanded to know why Sessions had said “20 or 30.” Sessions explained that when he gave that answer he didn’t have documents in front of him and was relying on his recollection from many years ago. He also noted that there is some ambiguity about how to count such cases.
Since Sessions corrected any false impression his original answer might have caused, Franken’s line of questioning was piddling.
Next Franken tried to show that Sessions hsd “misrepresented” his role by listing several big civil rights cases as among the most important cases he participated in. Franken’s point was that, although Sessions signed the complaint, he hadn’t really participated.
Franken relied mostly on Gerry Hebert, lead counsel in most of these cases, who has been saying that Sessions basically had no role. Hebert has a history of dishonesty, as Christian Adams has reported.
But Sessions had an even better way of dealing with Hebert’s attack. He quoted at length from gushing testimony Hebert gave in 1986 stating that Sessions played a major role in the civil rights prosecutions that Hebert pursued. As Sessions read this testimony, Franken tried to talk over him. He failed. Using Hebert’s own words, Sessions destroyed him, and Franken, on this point.
In the end, Franken was reduced to saying that, though he is not a lawyer (we can tell), it seems to him that by saying he had “filed” a case, Sessions implied that he “led” the case. Um, no.
Significantly, no Senator during the morning portion of the hearing, not even Franken, said or implied that Sessions is a racist. This must have been gratifying to Sen. Sessions, whose nomination for a judgeship failed on the basis of bogus racism allegations 30 years ago.
Smooth sailing, then, for Sen. Sessions so far.
ALSO: I forget to note that Sen. Durbin pushed Sen. Sessions on what will happen to “dreamers” who have been given relief through President Obama’s executive order. He brought a dreamer to the hearing (he also brought a crack cocaine dealer whose sentence Obama commuted).
Sessions said that the priority is fixing immigration through legislation. Then, as president-elect Trump has said, we can come up with a solution for dreamers and others who are here illegally but haven’t otherwise violated the law. Meanwhile, the executive order covering dreamers will be rescinded.
Durbin complained that this means the lives of dreamers like the fine fellow he brought to the hearing will be “ruined.”
What nonsense. Their status will simply revert back to what it was for six years under Obama. It did not appear that Durbin’s guest had been ruined during that time.
UPDATE by JOHN: Byron York agrees with Paul’s assessment of today’s hearing: “Sessions showdown fizzles.”