Sessions confirmed as U.S. attorney general after battle with Democrats

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By Julia Edwards Ainsley | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON A bitterly divided U.S. Senate
confirmed Republican Senator Jeff Sessions on Wednesday as the
next attorney general of the United States after strong pushback
from Democrats concerned about his record on civil rights.

Sessions, 70, who has served two decades in the Senate from
Alabama, was confirmed by a 52-47 vote largely along party lines
after Democrats raised public opposition to his confirmation.

In a rare move for a senator recently confirmed to a Cabinet
position, Sessions took to the floor of the chamber after the
vote and called for members of Congress to have some “latitude”
in their relationships with members of the other party.

“I want to thank those who after it all found sufficient
confidence to confirm me as the next attorney general,” Sessions
said.

“Denigrating people who disagree with us, I think, is not a
healthy trend for our body,” he said, referring to the Senate.

On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, a darling
of the political left, was silenced in the Senate for reading a
1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, the widow of the Rev.
Martin Luther King Jr., that criticized Sessions for his civil
rights record.

Democrats, civil rights and immigration groups have voiced
alarm about Sessions’ record of controversial positions on race,
immigration and criminal justice reform.

With Sessions as attorney general, eight of President Donald
Trump’s 22 Cabinet nominees have been confirmed.

The Republican-led Senate also voted on Wednesday to advance
Representative Tom Price’s nomination to head the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services. The Senate is likely to
vote to confirm Price on Friday.

TRUMP JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

Sessions, a known immigration hardliner, will take the lead
of the Justice Department as its lawyers are defending Trump’s
temporary entry ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim
countries and all refugees, the most controversial executive
order of the young administration.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is due to rule this
week on whether to overrule a district court judge in Seattle
who suspended the ban last week.

Civil rights groups worry that the Justice Department’s
civil rights division will not be aggressive in prosecuting
abuses under Sessions.

They cite his failure to win Senate confirmation to become a
federal judge in 1986 because of allegations he made racist
remarks, including testimony that he had called an
African-American prosecutor “boy,” an allegation Sessions
denied.

Sessions said at his hearing in 1986 that groups such as the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and
the American Civil Liberties Union could be considered “un-American.” He also acknowledged he had called the Voting
Rights Act of 1965 a “piece of intrusive legislation.”

The left-leaning Center for American Progress think tank questioned whether Sessions would be an independent legal voice
to challenge Trump’s agenda.

“Trump has shown little respect for the courts or the
constitutional limits on his power, and there is no reason to
think that Attorney General Sessions will act as an independent
check on the president,” said Michele Jawando, vice president
for legal progress at the think tank.

Sessions has pushed to curb immigration into the United
States, including by those who enter legally on work permits.

He has also voted against many measures to reduce sentences
for prisoners.

The Republican National Committee pushed back against what
it called “obstructing” by Democrats.

“That Democrats would try to skew Sessions’ strong civil
rights record and consistent adherence to rule of law in a
partisan effort to block their colleague’s nomination shows
their only commitment is to blindly obstructing this
administration,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna
McDaniel said on Sessions’ confirmation.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, Emily
Stephenson in Baltimore and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee)



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