Democrats vow to give Sessions bumpy ride after Trump fires acting AG
Votes of three Republican senators required to block appointment of president’s choice for role
Donald Trump’s decision to fire the acting attorney general Sally Yates has Democrats vowing an all-out fight against the nomination of the person he wants for the post - Republican Senator Jeff Sessions.
The partisan anger fueled by Mr Trump’s decision all but guarantees a titanic battle for an even bigger job, Supreme Court justice, when the US president announces his pick Tuesday.
Senate Republicans likely can clear Mr Sessions, a fellow senator for Alabama, with a final vote as early as Friday, if they turn quickly to address his confirmation. But Democrats say they want more time to question him, particularly over whether he’d have the independence to stand up to Mr Trump if he disagreed with the president. Democrats say that’s what Ms Yates did, and it cost her her job.
“Many people have doubts about whether Jeff Sessions can be that person, and the full Senate and the American people should at the very least know exactly how independent he plans to be before voting on him,” the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said in a statement Monday night.
The anger at Mr Trump’s handling of Ms Yates could intensify Democratic opposition to other Trump nominees. Only four have been confirmed so far, with more than dozen nominations still awaiting votes.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to debate and vote on Mr Sessions’s nomination Tuesday. Beth Levine, a spokeswoman for the panel, said its chairman, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, “knows of no substantive reason to delay the vote.”
But Democrats have noted that the Trump aide who reportedly helped write the executive order banning some immigrant travel, Stephen Miller, was previously a longtime Sessions aide.
Sally Yates’s letter to justice department official
Another complicating factor is that Mr Trump is expected Tuesday to name his nominee to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, setting up an even higher stakes fight for the coming weeks. Mr Trump’s order, which Democrats say has raised questions about whether the judicial branch can serve as an effective check on executive power, is certain to complicate that confirmation battle as well.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has not said when he plans to bring the Sessions nomination to the floor. The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on Elaine Chao to be transportation secretary, and is expected to vote no later than Wednesday on the nomination of former Exxon Mobil chief Rex Tillerson to run the State Department.
If Mr McConnell moves to bring up Mr Sessions after Mr Tillerson, Democrats could employ some delaying tactics. But Mr Sessions could still probably be voted in by Friday.
Any debate over Mr Sessions promises to be very emotionally charged, with Democrats expressing outrage over Mr Trump’s immigration order and his decision to fire Ms Yates, an Obama administration holdover, on Monday night after she said Justice Department lawyers would not defend in court a White House executive order banning immigrant travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Democratic leaders staged a protest in front of the Supreme Court Monday night, and held the Senate floor well into the night to criticise Mr Trumps’ order.
“We will not let this evil order make us less American,” Mr Schumer told protesters. “We will fight it with everything we have and we will win this fight.”
But to actually block Mr Sessions, Democrats need to win over the votes of least three Republicans.
Republican senators to watch include John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, as well as Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who have been particularly critical of the travel ban. Mr McCain was angry earlier Monday about the order, saying it could block Iraqi pilots from coming to Arizona for training on F-16s so they can fly missions back home that protect US soldiers helping to fight the Islamic State.
Mr Sessions provided written answers late Monday to questions from Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. He said neither he nor any of his current staff had a role in formulating or drafting Mr Trump’s executive orders.
“During the campaign, President Trump sought my and my staff’s input on a number of matters on which I have taken very public positions as a senator; however, it would be impossible for me to know the degree to which that input was relied upon in formulating or drafting the executive orders in question,” Sessions said.
Mr Sessions’s answer isn’t likely to satisfy to Democrats, who say the Yates firing only reinforces the need for an attorney general who is willing to stand up to potential abuses of power.
“President Trump has commenced a course of conduct that is Nixonian in its design and execution and threatens the long-vaunted independence of the Justice Department,” Representative John Conyers Jr., the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said Monday night in a statement. “If dedicated government officials deem his directives to be unlawful and unconstitutional, he will simply fire them as if government is a reality show.”