Senate Confirms Sessions as Attorney General After Bitter Fight

  • Vote comes after Republicans banned Warren from the debate
  • Sessions is seventh Trump Cabinet-level pick to be confirmed

Sessions Wins Contentious Attorney General Confirmation

The Senate confirmed one of its own, Jeff Sessions, as attorney general after more than a day of contentious debate that took an unusual turn when Republicans silenced Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.

By a vote of 52-47, the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday cleared the seventh of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet-level picks, a process that has dragged on as Democrats use delaying tactics but aren’t able to thwart the president’s choices.

In more than 30 straight hours of debate, Democrats said the Republican from Alabama won’t be independent enough from Trump and won’t protect voting rights and civil rights. Republicans countered that Sessions will put enforcing the nation’s laws above politics.

“He’s devoted as the chief law enforcement officer of our country to enforce the law even if he didn’t vote for it, even if he disagreed with it,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa said shortly before the confirmation roll call. “Senator Sessions will be independent. When he has to say no to the president of the United States, he will say no to the president of the United States.”

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, 70, was a federal prosecutor in his home state of Alabama and also served as the state’s attorney general before winning election to the Senate in 1996.

Judgeship Blocked

In 1986, Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge. That nomination was blocked in the Senate Judiciary Committee over charges, denied by Sessions, of racially insensitive remarks and actions. The allegations were renewed by Warren and other Democrats in the debate over making him the nation’s top law enforcement official.

Several Democrats, including Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, said they also question Sessions’s ability to remain independent from the White House. They cited Trump’s decision to fire Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama administration holdover, when she directed Justice Department lawyers not to defend the president’s ban on entry to the U.S. from seven mostly Muslim nations.

"The attorney general is the American people’s lawyer, not the president’s," Hirono said Wednesday. "The job requires the attorney general to stand up to the president as the people’s lawyer. In his first two weeks in office, President Trump has demonstrated his intolerance of dissent and independent thinking."

Long one of the Senate’s more conservative members, Sessions took a gamble backing Trump early in the Republican primaries. He was a long-time member of the Judiciary Committee, a post that supporters say greatly enhanced his qualifications to lead the Justice Department.

"If I know one thing about him, it’s that he’s not a yes man," Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said during Wednesday’s debate over the nomination. "He’s one of the very last who I would ever expect in any context to sell out his sincerely held views on the basis of political expediency."

Blocking Warren

Tensions mounted Tuesday night when Republicans invoked a seldom-used rule against personal attacks on a colleague to prevent Warren from participating further in the debate. They acted after she read from a 1986 letter that Coretta Scott King wrote during the fight over Sessions’ nomination for the federal judiciary.

Elizabeth Warren prepares for an interview after she was prevented from reading a letter by Coretta Scott King. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Elizabeth Warren prepares for an interview after she was prevented from reading a letter by Coretta Scott King.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“Mr. Sessions’s conduct as U.S attorney from his politically motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge,” Warren said, quoting the letter from the late wife of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

A succession of Democrats read from the letter after Republicans gave up on challenging their right to do so. The move to muzzle Warren of Massachusetts backfired as a video of her reading the disputed letter outside the Senate chamber drew more than 9.1 million views on Facebook.

— With assistance by Steven T. Dennis

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