Senate Democrats are pledging to fight Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsDem rep: Sanctuary cities are actually ‘Fourth Amendment cities’ Intel Dem: 'What's the holdup' on Yates testimony? Police union warns of Trump's sanctuary city plan MORE's nomination to be attorney general, arguing the pick feeds into larger concerns they have about the Trump administration.
Democrats are raising questions about whether the Alabama Republican would be able to provide equal protection to all Americans, three decades after Sessions was blocked from a federal judgeship because of racism accusations that surfaced during his confirmation hearing.
“If he refuses, then it will fall to the Senate to exercise fundamental moral leadership for our nation and all of its people,” she said.
“Thirty years ago, a different Republican Senate rejected Senator Sessions' nomination to a federal judgeship,” she added. “Today, a new Republican Senate must decide whether self-interest and political cowardice will prevent them from once again doing what is right."
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who will be one of three black senators in the next Congress, said he has concerns that Sessions “possesses ideologies that are in conflict with basic tenants of the Justice Department’s mission.”
Sessions has repeatedly denied the accusations that he called an African-American assistant U.S. attorney “boy” or that he called the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union “un-American.”
He voted to confirm Eric HolderEric H. HolderUber donates M to supporting minorities in tech Overnight Tech: Senate moving to kill FCC's internet privacy rules | Bill Gates pushes for foreign aid | Verizon, AT&T pull Google ads | Q&A with IBM's VP for cyber threat intel Uber leadership sticking by CEO MORE as the nation’s first black attorney general, though he opposed Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s nomination over immigration issues. Lynch is the first black woman to serve in the post.
Sessions voted in favor of extending the Civil Rights Act, and his defenders have noted that he filed multiple desegregation lawsuits as a U.S. attorney in Alabama.
In 1999, he led efforts to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Rosa Parks, a civil rights icon and Alabama native.
Democrats could face an uphill battle to stop Sessions’s nomination. Because of rules changes instituted when they ran the chamber, only 51 votes are needed to confirm a Cabinet nominee, not the previous threshold of 60 votes.
There could also be pressure on some Democrats to back Sessions and other Trump nominees. Dozens of Democratic senators will be up for reelection in 2018, including some representing states won by Trump in 2016.
Still, Democrats are signaling that they won’t give Sessions or Trump’s nominee to be the next CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), a free pass.
Sessions has one advantage over Pompeo: He’s a member of the Senate, and the chumminess of the exclusive club often helps members win confirmation battles.
Sessions is generally well liked by colleagues, even those who disagree with him on politics.
That said, incoming Senate Democrat Leader Charles SchumerCharles SchumerGOP strategist: Trump's dealmaking mojo 'went over like a fart in a hurricane' McConnell: ObamaCare 'status quo' will stay in place moving forward NRA launches M Supreme Court ad MORE (D-N.Y.) said that while he and Sessions “work out in the gym ... the fact that he is a senator does not absolve him from answering tough questions in the confirmation process.”
He added he has concerns about what Sessions “would do with the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.”
Democratic Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinOvernight Regulation: Trump repeals 'blacklisting' rule Dems delay Senate panel vote on Supreme Court nominee Dems get it wrong: 'Originalism' is mainstream, even for liberal judges MORE (Calif.), Chris CoonsChris CoonsSenators introduce new Iran sanctions Gorsuch sails on day one, but real test is Tuesday Live coverage: Supreme Court nominee hearings begin MORE (Del.), Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahySenate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight Register of copyrights should be presidential appointee GOP senator on going nuclear: 'I really hope that it doesn't come to that' MORE (Vt.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseGovernment Accountability Office will review Mar-a-Lago security procedures Green groups vow war over Trump’s climate rollback Gorsuch is restoring lost faith in government MORE (R.I.) and Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalSenators introduce new Iran sanctions Senators demand Pentagon action after nude photo scandal Gorsuch rewrites playbook for confirmation hearings MORE (Conn.), all Judiciary members, pledged to give Sessions a fair but thorough vetting process.
But Feinstein, who will be the committee's top Democrat in 2017, appeared to fire a warning shot that Sessions will have to show he’s not too loyal to Trump.
“His or her primary loyalty must be to the constitution and the rule of law—and sometimes that means telling the president no,” she said of an Attorney General nominee.
Sessions was the first sitting senator to back Trump for president.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellScarborough: Bannon trying to ‘help his falling standing’ in WH Hatch: I may retire if Romney runs to replace me How the GOP’s ‘Access to Care’ bill cuts down states’ rights MORE (R-Ky.) gave a boost to Trump’s first Cabinet pick, saying he “strongly” supports Sessions’s nomination.
A source separately told CNN that McConnell has pledged to push Sessions’s nomination through the Senate. A spokesman for the Kentucky Republican declined to comment on a private conversation.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyRNC head: Dems acting ‘petty’ to Gorsuch Dems delay Senate panel vote on Supreme Court nominee Grassley wants details on firm tied to controversial Trump dossier MORE (R-Iowa) said he was “confident” that Sessions would be favorably reported by his committee.
In addition to Grassley, every Republican member on the committee quickly coalesced around the nomination. Sens. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeWounded Ryan faces new battle Overnight Tech: High court hears case on where patent suits are filed | House to vote on blocking internet privacy rules | Facebook's new tools for voters House to vote Tuesday on blocking Obama internet privacy rules MORE (Ariz.), Mike LeeMike LeeOvernight Defense: General says US strike probably led to civilian deaths | Tillerson to push NATO on spending | Trump taps F-35 chief Senate backs Montenegro's NATO membership The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Utah) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSenate Dems: Border wall is a budget 'poison pill' Senate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight Republicans seek to lower odds of a shutdown MORE (S.C.), who have policy differences with Sessions, indicated they will vote for him.
The support from Judiciary Committee Republicans, who represent a cross-section of the caucus, bodes well for Sessions. Pompeo similarly got a quick endorsement from Sens. Richard BurrRichard BurrSenate committee to question Kushner over Russian meetings: report Devin Nunes has jeopardized the oversight role of Congress Schumer: Trump must apologize for wiretapping claim MORE (R-N.C.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioRepublicans giving Univision the cold shoulder: report Week ahead: Senate panel to vote on Trump's Labor pick Senators introduce new Iran sanctions MORE (R-Fla.), members of the Intelligence Committee.
Progressive groups and lawmakers will be pressuring Democrats to oppose Sessions.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Trump should either rescind his nomination or the Senate should block Sessions again.
Rep. G.K. ButterfieldG.K. ButterfieldFCC defends not fighting legal challenge to prison call rates A guide to the committees: House 40 House Dems to urge Trump to suspend Flynn MORE, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the group would oppose Sessions’s nomination. And Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), a respected party voice on immigration, offered a blistering statement.
“If you have nostalgia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible and women stayed in the kitchen, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man,” he said in a statement.
Steven Law, the president and CEO of the Senate Leadership Fund that has ties to McConnell, said the group looked “forward to doing everything we can to support Senator Sessions' nomination.”
McConnell also appeared to publicly warn Democrats against slow walking Sessions.
“I look forward to the Senate’s fair and expeditious treatment of our colleague’s forthcoming nomination,” he said. “Just as it promptly processed President Obama’s first Attorney General nomination, which concluded with a timely up or down vote.”