WASHINGTON – Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to be U.S. attorney general, promised on Tuesday before a Senate committee to be a voice of reason in the incoming administration and to tell the New York mogul “no” if he exceeds his presidential authority.
Sessions went before the Senate Judiciary Committee to be questioned by lawmakers as part of the process to confirm his nomination as attorney general.
Well-known for his hardline stances on immigration and his proposals to enforce “law and order,” Sessions defended the independence of the office to which he aspires and said that anyone who holds it must place the law and the Constitution above his own beliefs.
The senator said that he disagrees with Trump on several points, including the billionaire’s idea to prohibit the entry of Muslims into the United States, ostensibly in an attempt to prevent terrorist attacks.
Sessions said that he does not support Trump’s idea to ban Muslims from entering the country, and he also disassociated himself from Trump’s promise to reinstitute torture – specifically waterboarding – for suspected terrorists, a controversial practice that President Barack Obama banned in 2009.
“Congress has taken an action now that makes it absolutely improper and illegal to use waterboarding or any other form of torture in the United States by our military and by all our other departments and agencies,” said Sessions.
Session also promised to recuse himself from any investigation of former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over controversial donations to the Clinton Foundation or for her use of private e-mail servers to handle official business when she was secretary of state from 2009-2013.
“I believe that would be best for the country because we can never have a political dispute turn into a criminal dispute,” he said.
During the election campaign, Trump promised that his future attorney general would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton, whom he also promised to throw in jail.
Sessions’ nomination as attorney general has sparked much unease among organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, and more than 1,400 U.S. law professors have sent letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee alerting its members to what they say is the senator’s “racism.”
In fact, several demonstrators – some of the dressed in white robes and pointed hoods like the Ku Klux Klan – interrupted the hearing several times with shouts such as “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.”
In his statement, Sessions called some of the accusations against him incorrect, including one that he persecuted the defenders of African Americans’ civil rights and supported the racist Ku Klux Klan during his stint as a prosecutor for Alabama’s southern district from 1981-1993.
“I abhor the Klan and its hateful ideology,” declared Sessions.
However, Sessions defended his conservative ideas about immigration and said that he would support a hypothetical decision by Trump to end the Deferred Action program, or DACA, which has halted the deportation of 750,000 young people who were brought to the United States as children and who are known as “Dreamers.”
The senator called the DACA program a massive case of “amnesty” and questioned its constitutionality, given that Obama implemented it in 2012 by executive order, and thus it could be eliminated by Trump via a similar move.
The Democratic opposition does not have the necessary votes to block Sessions’ confirmation and, thus, Democratic lawmakers are targeting their questions to try and open up cracks within conservative ranks.
After several hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions at some point after Jan. 20 – when Trump is inaugurated – will face a vote by the full Senate, where his confirmation appears to be a foregone conclusion – unless a few Republicans break ranks – since it requires 51 votes and Republicans currently hold a majority of 52 seats.