WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-led Senate worked nonstop Wednesday toward a confirmation vote on Sen. Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, who faced a firestorm of Democratic criticism over his record on civil rights and other issues.
Democrats contended Sessions is too close to Trump, too harsh on immigrants, and weak on civil rights. They asserted he wouldn’t do enough to protect voting rights of minorities, protections for gay people, the right of women to procure abortions, and immigrants in the country illegally to receive due process.
Republicans say Sessions has demonstrated over a long career in public service — and two decades in the Senate — that he possesses integrity, honesty, and is committed to justice and the rule of law.
“He’s honest. He’s fair. He’s been a friend to many of us, on both sides of the aisle,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Wednesday. “It’s been tough to watch all this good man has been put through in recent weeks. This is a well-qualified colleague with a deep reverence for the law. He believes strongly in the equal application of it to everyone.”
The Alabama Republican was expected to prevail on a near party-line evening vote over nearly unanimous Democratic opposition.
“There is simply nothing in Senator Sessions’ testimony before the Judiciary Committee that gives me confidence that he would be willing to stand up to the president,” said Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt. “He has instead demonstrated only blind allegiance.”
Sessions enjoys unanimous backing from fellow Republicans and cleared a procedural vote Tuesday afternoon by a 52-47 margin.
Wednesday’s confirmation vote comes amid rising tension between Republicans controlling the chamber over delaying tactics by minority Democratic that have left fewer of Trump’s picks in place than President Barack Obama had eight years ago.
Next in line for confirmation is Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., Trump’s pick for health secretary. The Senate planned to vote Wednesday evening to clear Democratic procedural obstacles to his nomination, and final approval seemed certain.
Democrats have solidly opposed Price, a staunch advocate of repealing Obama’s health care overhaul and reshaping and scaling back the Medicare and Medicaid programs that provide health care to older and low-income people.
But they’ve mostly accused Price, a wealthy former orthopedic surgeon, of conflicts of interest by acquiring stocks in health care companies and pushing legislation that could help those firms.
They’ve especially targeted his acquisition of shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotech firm that’s said Price got a special insider’s deal. Price, who has said he learned of the opportunity from a fellow lawmaker, Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., had testified to Congress that the shares were available to all investors.
“If I were a prosecutor, I’d say this case has real potential,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Wednesday.
This week has featured overnight Senate sessions as GOP leaders are grinding through a thicket of controversial picks.
Epitomizing the sharp-edged partisanship surrounding confirmation of Trump’s Cabinet nominees, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was given a rare rebuke Tuesday evening for quoting Coretta Scott King, widow of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., on the Senate floor. King wrote that as an acting federal prosecutor in Alabama, Sessions used his power to “chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”
McConnell held that the Massachusetts Democrat had run afoul of rules about impugning a fellow senator.
Sessions’ nomination to a federal judgeship was rejected three decades ago by the Senate Judiciary Committee after it was alleged that as a federal prosecutor he had called a black attorney “boy” and had said organizations like the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union were un-American.
At his hearing last month, Sessions said he had never harbored racial animus, saying he had been falsely caricatured.
Sessions would be the fifth Cabinet nominee approved by the Senate, joining Trump’s choices for Defense, Homeland Security, Education and State.
Sessions was a prominent early backer of Trump, a supporter of his hard line on illegal immigration and joined Trump’s advocacy of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Sessions has pledged to crack down on illegal immigration, gun violence and the “scourge of radical Islamic terrorism.”
Though he said he would prosecute immigrants who repeatedly enter the country illegally and criticized as constitutionally “questionable” an executive action by Obama that shielded certain immigrants from deportation, he said he did “not support the idea that Muslims, as a religious group, should be denied admission to the United States.”
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