AFRICANGLOBE – The US Senate confirmed Jeff Sessions as attorney general Wednesday, despite fierce debate about his civil rights record and Democratic concern over whether he serves as the nation’s top law enforcement officer independent from President Donald Trump.
When the tally was announced, many senators broke into extended applause for their colleague.
Trump has harangued Democrats for slow-walking his nominees, blasting their unprecedented obstruction as a “disgrace.”
He appeared particularly angered by the delay on Sessions, who as attorney general would wield enormous power regarding the administration of justice, including on the issue of voting rights.
“Congratulations to our new attorney general,” Trump tweeted shortly after the vote.
Sessions, widely seen as an inspiration for Trump’s anti-immigration policies, is just the sixth of 15 cabinet members to be confirmed, in addition to the cabinet-rank positions of CIA director and US ambassador to the United Nations.
He takes charge of the Justice Department and its 113,000 employees amid a swirling legal debate over Trump’s most controversial White House action to date, an executive order temporarily blocking all refugee arrivals and immigration from seven mainly Muslim countries.
With Trump using Twitter to bully a judge who rolled back the ban, and an appeals court weighing whether to reinstate it, debate over Sessions grew increasingly acrimonious and personal.
On Tuesday night, it turned ugly. Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sternly rebuked Democrat Elizabeth Warren for reading a letter written by the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr that criticized Sessions’s civil rights record.
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” McConnell said of Warren’s violation of the chamber’s rules of decorum.
Warren, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, later said: “I will not be silent about a nominee for AG who has made derogatory and racist comments that have no place in our justice system.”
In 1986, Coretta Scott King wrote a letter to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee urging senators to reject Sessions’s nomination as a federal judge. His appointment ultimately failed.
“Mr Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens,” King wrote.
Senator Sherrod Brown expressed concern about Sessions in light of Trump’s recent executive order.
“We need an attorney general who will be an independent voice beholden to the Constitution and the American people, not the president,” Brown said.