By Brenda Flanagan
You might call the Senate a very exclusive club — 100 members that have never testified against a colleague — until today. Sen. Cory Booker said the arc of the moral universe doesn’t naturally curve toward justice, that America needs an attorney general who’s resolute and determined to bend that arc. But, Booker warned Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama will not do that as Donald Trump’s attorney general. And he asked senators on the Judiciary Committee to block his nomination.
“Sen. Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requisite of the job — to aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights and justice for all of our citizens. In fact, at numerous times in his career he’s demonstrated a hostility towards these convictions and has worked to frustrate attempts to advance these ideals. If confirmed, Sen. Sessions will be required to pursue justice for women — but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend equal rights of gay and lesbian and transgendered Americans but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend voting rights, but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend the rights of immigrants and affirm their human dignity, but the record indicates that he won’t. His record indicates that as attorney general, he’d object to the growing national bipartisan movement towards criminal justice reform,” Booker said.
“At a time when the Justice Department he would lead has uncovered systemic abuses in police departments all over the United States — including Ferguson, including Newark — Sen. Sessions would not continue to lead this urgently needed change. The next attorney general must bring hope and healing to this country, and this demands a more courageous empathy than Sen. Sessions’ record demonstrates,” Booker said.
Booker’s unprecedented break with Senate tradition drew sharp criticism from Republican Sen. Tom Cotton who wrote, “I’m very disappointed that Sen. Booker has chosen to start his 2020 presidential campaign by testifying against Sen. Sessions. This disgraceful breach of custom is especially surprising since Sen. Booker just last year said he was ‘honored to have partnered with Sen. Sessions’ on a resolution honoring civil rights marchers.”
And yesterday Sessions, himself, denied the accusations of racism that cost him a judgeship in 1986.
“I was accused in 1986 of failing to protect the voting rights of African-Americans — voter fraud case — and of condemning civil rights advocates and organizations and even harboring, amazingly, sympathies for the KKK. These are damnably false charges,” Sessions said.
Earlier this morning, at the Foreign Relations Committee hearing, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez questioned Trump’s pick for secretary of state — former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, whom Menendez accused of lobbying hard on Russia’s behalf against international sanctions imposed by the U.S. He told Tillerson patriotism must outrank profit.
“What message are you now going to be able to send American businesses who are intent on pursuing their own interests at the expense of U.S. policies and potential political instabilities in foreign countries? How will you re-calibrate your priorities as secretary of state? Your shareholders are the American people and their security and their interests,” Menendez said.
“Well there is a lot in that question senator,” responded Tillerson.
“I’ll give you the rest of my time here,” replied Menendez.
“Around which I could respond. First, I have never lobbied against sanctions, personally I continually –,” Tillerson said.
“But the company that you directed did,” Menendez said.
“To my knowledge, Exxon never lobbied directly against sanctions. In terms of all actions that were mentioned there, they were undertaken with a great deal of transparency, openness, engagement and input to the process. That’s the beauty of the American process is that others are invited to express their view, and inform the process. My pivot now, if confirmed to be secretary of state, will have one mission only — to represent the interest of the American people,” Tillerson said.
Both committees continued hearing testimony and the record will remain open until early next week when both committees are expected to send the nominations on to the full Senate for a vote.