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What to Watch: Jeff Sessions’s Confirmation Hearing

January 10, 2017 11:16 AM
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What to Watch: Jeff Sessions’s Confirmation Hearing

The last time Mr. Sessions faced a confirmation hearing, it did not end well for him. In 1986, President Reagan nominated Mr. Sessions for a federal judgeship. But accusations of racist comments and questions about a racially charged voter-fraud prosecution torpedoed his nomination. Witnesses testified that Mr. Sessions had, among other things, referred to the American Civil Liberties Union and the N.A.A.C.P. as “un-American” for “trying to force civil rights down the throats of people.”

Back then, he seemed unprepared for such questions. He will surely face them again. This time, Republicans are leaving nothing to chance and have lined up African-American surrogates to speak on his behalf.

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January 10, 2017 11:18 AM

Senator Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairman of the Judiciary Committee, kicked things off with a reminder that Mr. Sessions is not simply a nominee, he is a colleague. “We know him well,” he said.

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January 10, 2017 11:18 AM

The Republican theme of the hearing is that Mr. Sessions is a known entity, and he reinforced that in his opening remarks. “You know who I am,” he said. “You know what I believe in.”

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January 10, 2017 11:17 AM

That won’t ease the fears of many Democrats. Mr. Sessions has been a far-right conservative Republican for decades and believes that the Justice Department has overreached in its enforcement of civil rights laws.

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January 10, 2017 11:17 AM

Mr. Sessions assured his Senate colleagues that he would strictly adhere to the Constitution and stand up to the president if needed. He’s been consistent for years that senators should apply that test to Justice Department nominees.

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January 10, 2017 11:16 AM

In response to a question about whether he supported a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, as Mr. Trump has suggested, Mr. Sessions said he did not. “I have no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims as a religious groups should be denied admission to the United States,” he said. But he noted that Mr. Trump has since clarified that the restriction should be on immigration from countries that support terrorism. He said religious views — where, for example, they include justification for violence against Americans — should be considered as part of the visa progress.

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January 10, 2017 11:16 AM

Flash forward to Tuesday. Mr. Sessions sidestepped questions about whether he would put the weight of the Justice Department behind drug prosecution in those states. Doing so would set up a huge fight over states’ rights and federal drug policy. “I know it won’t be an easy decision,” he said.