Softballs for Jeff Sessions: Fireworks fizzle at first confirmation hearing for Trump's Cabinet

Sen. Jeff Sessions was surrounded by friendly colleagues and vocal protesters at Tuesday's hearing

By Sophia Tesfaye
January 11, 2017 6:00AM (UTC)
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FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2016, file photo, Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., on Capitol Hill in Washington. Sessions, is set to be questioned by his peers at a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Jan. 10. (AP Photo/Molly Riley, File) (AP)

Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee had only one shot to publicly litigate the record of President-elect Donald Trump's pick to lead the Department of Justice, but for most of the first day of confirmation hearings they failed to hold Sen. Jeff Sessions accountable.

Trump's controversial nominee for attorney general sat before many of the same colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had recently served with and delivered a performance of contrition to begin his testimony on Tuesday. Deviating from his prepared remarks, the hardline conservative defended himself from allegations of racism as protesters donning white robes and white hoods interrupted. Shouts of "No KKK!" and "Jeff Sessions is a racist!" repeatedly rang out throughout Sessions' hours-long testimony. Sessions told the senators that, despite praise he allegedly offered in the past, he actually "abhors" the Ku Klux Klan.


Sessions' Republican colleagues proved to be great allies, throwing him softball questions asking how it "feels" to be tagged as a racist, just as Democrats brought up the fact that it was a Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee that initially rejected Sessions for a federal judgeship in 1986. The rejection was in part because of his history of racial insensitivity.

For most of the day Democrats on the committee politely questioned Sessions on his civil rights record, his opposition to the Voting Rights Act, Roe. v. Wade, same-sex marriage and criminal justice reform. As controversial as Sessions' nomination has been with activist groups, his confirmation hearing among friends has thus far not been very contentious.
The real fireworks, however, are expected to pop off Wednesday when, for the first time in history, a sitting U.S. senator is expected to testify against another sitting senator — New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker plans to testify against Sessions. Booker said he is concerned that Sessions cannot be counted on to protect and enforce voting rights, LGBT rights and civil rights.

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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