The unofficial lobbying push to confirm Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as the next attorney general already is under way, with conservative allies launching a campaign and website to tout his bona fides – and prevent past controversies from creating turbulence next month.
Sessions, one of President-elect Donald Trump’s earliest supporters, was one of his earliest Cabinet selections. Trump, in naming him to the powerful post, called Sessions “a world-class legal mind” admired by “virtually everyone who knows him.”
At the time of Trump’s November announcement, however, the pick was met immediately with angry objections from Democrats and immigration activists over his hardline views on the subject. In 2015 he called the phrase “immigration reform” a “legislative honorific almost exclusively reserved for proposals which benefit everyone but actual American citizens.”
But then others who oppose his nomination have sought to revive a decades-old controversy that surfaced during his 1986 nomination to be a federal judge. That nomination was rejected after former colleagues testified he had made a number of racially charged comments, including that he had called the NAACP and ACLU “un-American,” called a black prosecutor “boy” and made a joke about liking the Ku Klux Klan until he heard they used marijuana. Sessions has denied making racist comments and called the charges inaccurate.
Sessions’ confirmation hearing is set before the Senate Judiciary Committee for Jan. 10-11.
In preparation, the website ConfirmSessions.com launched Friday, offering a staunch defense of Sessions’ record as both a senator and attorney general in Alabama, who has “worked tirelessly to defend the civil and legal rights of all Americans.”
“From his time as U.S. Attorney to his tenure as Attorney General for the state of Alabama, Jeff Sessions successfully prosecuted drug and violent criminals, corrupt politicians, and white collar offenders, and his record shows an absolute commitment to equal justice under law by putting the people first – not powerful special interests,” Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network – the group behind the push — said in a statement.
The controversy surrounding Sessions, however, may have ebbed as critics focus on other more recent picks such as ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of State, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy. Tillerson in particular has faced bipartisan concerns over his Russia ties.
Further, with Trump needing only to muster a simple majority in the Senate to confirm Cabinet nominees, he could seal Sessions’ appointment by keeping majority Republicans in line.
Sessions’ allies still are taking care to stress Sessions’ past bipartisan support, in hopes that his colleagues on both sides of the aisle join together in confirming him. The pro-Sessions site includes testimonials from top Democratic leaders including incoming Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
“We are from different parts of the country, and not only different parties, but clearly different ideologies, but he is always a gentleman,” it quotes Schumer as saying in 2002.
Schumer recently said Sessions will get a “very thorough and tough vetting” in the confirmation process. Other Democratic colleagues signaled they’ll make noise next month.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a November statement: “Thirty years ago, a different Republican Senate rejected Senator Sessions’ nomination to a federal judgeship. In doing so, that Senate affirmed that there can be no compromise with racism; no negotiation with hate. Today, a new Republican Senate must decide whether self-interest and political cowardice will prevent them from once again doing what is right.”
Severino told FoxNews.com their website is focused on helping voters understand who Sessions is, while countering some of the criticism leveled at him over alleged past remarks.
“We will be batting those attacks down, but the bigger purpose is to make the positive case and we are explaining why he is qualified for this position,” she said. “We just want to be ready if they do ramp [the attacks] up further.”