Senate Republicans cheered the nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to serve as Attorney General in the coming Donald Trump administration. His Democratic colleagues, however, are already hinting at a difficult path to confirmation.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) praised Sessions’ nomination in a statement Friday calling the Alabama Senator “a respected member and former Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee who has worked across the aisle on major legislation,” adding:
“He knows the Justice Department as a former U.S. attorney, which would serve him very well in this position. With this background, I’m confident he would be reported favorably out of the committee.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn called Sessions’ a “principled and good man” that would “restore honor to a department that, under President Obama, perpetually pushed a political agenda while neglecting to enforce the law.”
“For nearly eight years the Justice Department has twisted the Constitution and the laws passed by Congress to further the President’s liberal agenda, eroding our liberty in the process,” Cornyn added. “It has put politics ahead of national security, and demonized those who protect us. It’s time to end the politicization of the Justice Department and start defending the rule of law, and I’m confident that as our top law enforcement official Senator Sessions will do that.”
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the Republicans who did not back Trump’s presidential run, quickly got behind Sessions as the next head of the Justice Department.
.@SenatorSessions is a fine, decent man & principled conservative. He has the experience and ability to serve as Attorney General of the US.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) November 18, 2016
But Senate Democrats were not so eager to congratulate Sessions, a relatively well-liked member of the Senate’s Judiciary and Armed Services committees.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who will be leaving his post as the Judiciary Committee’s ranking member for a position on the Appropriations Committee next year, expressed caution to having such a close ally of Trump serving as Attorney General.
In a statement following Trump’s decision to select Sessions, Leahy said:
“The Attorney General serves as the chief law enforcement officer in the country. The Attorney General must be independent and fair. The Attorney General must be deeply committed to the rule of law and must ensure that all people are treated equally before the law. This means that he or she is also the chief protector of civil rights and civil liberties for everyone in our Nation. That has never been more important than in this moment, when hate crimes have spiked across the country, especially against Muslim and LGBTQ Americans. And when we have a President-elect who has proposed religious tests, a return to torture, and a deportation force that threatens to remove millions of immigrants.”
“Senator Sessions and I have had significant disagreements over the years, particularly on civil rights, voting rights, immigration, and criminal justice issues,” Leahy added. “But unlike Republicans’ practice of unprecedented obstruction of President Obama’s nominees, I believe nominees deserve a full and fair process before the Senate. The American people deserve to learn about Senator Sessions’ record at the public Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.”
Also skeptical of Sessions was longtime California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who will be the Democrats’ ranking member on the Judiciary Committee in the next Congress.
Feinstein said in a statement that “the attorney general is a lawyer for the people, not the president. His or her primary loyalty must be to the Constitution and rule of law — and sometimes that means telling the president no.”
Feinstein noted that because of his service on the Judiciary Committee, Sessions is “well aware of the thorough vetting he’s about to receive,” adding:
“And while many of us have worked with Senator Sessions closely and know him to be a staunch advocate for his beliefs, the process will remain the same: a fair and complete review of the nominee. While Senator Sessions and I differ on a great many issues, I am committed to a full and fair process.”
The confirmation process for executive branch positions can be a smooth one or a tumultuous one for a variety of different reason. The initial reactions show that a unified Republican conference will be backing Sessions, but Democrats will certainly have their say.