Senator Jeff Sessions, 70 years old and a 20-year veteran of the Senate, was confirmed as the 84th Attorney General of the United States 52-47 on February 8. The vote was on party lines with only one Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia casting a vote for the Republican from Alabama.
Sessions’s confirmation follows weeks of contention surrounding his nomination. The controversy largely stemmed from the perception that Sessions is a racist. The seeds for this racist persona have been germinating since 1986 when Sessions, a 39-year-old US attorney was denied a federal judgeship because he had allegedly made racist comments in the past and had also prosecuted a voter fraud case against an African-American.
Sessions’ supporters have endeavored to debunk the racist charge by pointing out that Sessions successfully prosecuted and implemented the death penalty for a Klu Klux Klan member who had killed a black teenager. Sessions also had a track record of desegregating schools during his tenure as Alabama Attorney General.
In the last hours before Sessions’s confirmation, Senator Elizabeth Warren staged a list ditch showdown on the Senate floor by reading a letter which Martin Luther King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, wrote in 1986 to the Senate Judiciary Committee opposing Session’s nomination for the federal judgeship.
She also recited a statement which the late Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy made in 1986 about Sessions. “He is, I believe, a disgrace to the Justice Department and he should withdraw his nomination and resign his position.”
Senator Warren was ultimately rebuked for her antics by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who invoked Senate Rule 19 which prohibits senators from speaking in a disparaging manner about other senators as a way to remove Warren from the floor.
The end results of this action were a mixed bag as Warren took to Facebook and Twitter to continue her protest where she aptly played the “silenced” victim and parlayed that role into raising over $250k in a short time frame.
Following Sessions’s confirmation, Tim Scott, a black Republican Senator from South Carolina delivered a passionate defense of Sessions’s qualifications to be attorney general. He also read aloud from the hate mail he received for supporting Sessions. “You are an Uncle Tom, Scott. You’re for Sessions. How does a black man turn on his own,”…. “Tim Scott … doesn’t have a shred of honor. He’s a House Negro like the one in ‘Django.'”
Scott also caveated, “I left out all the ones that used the ‘n-word.’ Just felt like that would not be appropriate.” He further added, “I just wish that my friends who call themselves liberals would want tolerance for all Americans, including conservative Americans.”
Sessions, for his part, accepted his confirmation with grace and humility. “I would say what would be my prayer for this body that in the future maybe the intensity of the last few weeks would die down and maybe somehow we get along better.”
He also conveyed that despite the late Senator Edward Kennedy’s negative comments about him back in 1986, the two senators formed a strong relationship whereby Kennedy wanted to partner with Sessions on a piece of legislation. “I knew what that meant, and I appreciated that,” Sessions said. “It was a moment of reconciliation that meant a lot to me, and I think he appreciated it too.”
Reconciliation is exactly what this country needs. And Sessions has his work cut out for him on a number of fronts including immigration, voter fraud and law enforcement. With Sessions’s appointment, Trump now has eight cabinet members confirmed three weeks into his administration. By contrast, Barack Obama and George W. Bush respectfully had six and seven cabinet nominees confirmed on inauguration day.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange now assumes Sessions’s senate seat.
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