The Senate has voted to confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as attorney general in a 52-47 vote that went along party lines, following days of rigorous discussion and capping a vicious debate that left Democrats and Republicans seething, and Elizabeth Warren barred from speaking.
Sen. Joe Manchin was the only Democrat to break party rank and vote to back Sessions. Independent Senators Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont voted alongside 45 Democrats in opposition to the nominee.
The fight over Sessions' nomination infamously escalated last night, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren read a letter that Coretta Scott King had written in 1986 that accused Sessions, a U.S. attorney at the time, of using the power of his office to prevent blacks from voting. As we reported last night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to Warren’s speech, saying she had impugned another member of the Senate. Then, in a 49-43 vote, the Senate agreed, blocking Warren from speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
Angry Democrats accused McConnell of silencing a woman on the floor, and Warren went on a media blitz against the Republican senators and Sessions. The tensions were on full display during the debate over Sessions’s nomination. “We all know our colleague from Alabama. He’s honest," McConnell said. “He’s fair. He’s been a friend to many of us, on both sides of the aisle.”
Democrats defended their criticism of Sessions’s record on issues of race and civil rights. “When we make a big issue of the position of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions on the Voting Rights Act, it's with good cause. It is historically an issue which has haunted the United States since the Civil War,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — the No. 2 Senate Democrat — said ahead of the vote.
“Senator Sessions is not a man apart from this agenda. He is not independent of [Trump's] agenda,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
Republicans meanwhile decried the Democratic tactics, arguing they were going to new lows to smear Sessions. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) — a long-serving Senate traditionalist — said Democrats are treating Sessions like a “terrible person,” urging his colleagues on Tuesday night to think of Sessions’s wife.
As The Hill points out, the fiery words in the last days of the debate over Sessions were somewhat surprising.
While the issue of race had always hung over the debate, Sessions is well-liked personally by many senators. That made the stinging words all the more noteworthy — and raises questions about the ability of lawmakers to work together going forward.
Sessions will now take over the Justice Department’s defense of Trump’s controversial order barring people from seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the United States. A former aide to Sessions was instrumental in the order’s writing, and Democrats argued the Alabama senator would not be a firm defender of an independent Justice Department.