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Trump Cabinet Picks Incite Liberal Backlash

Democrats, civil liberties groups sound alarm on choices of top advisers

Demonstrators from People for the American Way hold a protest in Washington on Friday against the nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions President-elect Donald Trump’s attorney general. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Demonstrators from People for the American Way hold a protest in Washington on Friday against the nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions President-elect Donald Trump’s attorney general. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President-elect Donald Trump’s picks for three key Cabinet positions incited a chorus of denunciations from Democrats and liberal groups Friday.

After announcing former Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon would be a top adviser earlier this week, Friday’s selections further confounded conjectures that Trump would return to his moderate roots as he assembled his Cabinet.

“There is a growing and alarming trend among the individuals President-elect Trump is naming to key positions in his administration,” New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker said in a statement. “Some have degraded and demeaned Americans. Others actively promote dangerous fringe ideologies. Still more have threatened Americans’ rights, and attacked the privileges of citizenship.”

The majority of the criticism focused on Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for attorney general, whose nomination to a federal judgeship was rejected by a GOP-controlled Senate judiciary committee in 1986 because of his record of statements considered to be racist.

“This nomination is deeply troubling to Americans who care about equal protection under the law,” said Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. 

On Friday afternoon, a group of around 20 protestors called on Senators to reject Sessions. People for the American Way led the protest in Upper Senate Park citing in a release Sessions’ “lengthy history of bigoted rhetoric and policies.”

Democrats and liberal groups also voiced alarm about Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, and GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas as director of the CIA.

Flynn is a retired three-star Army general, highly regarded in some military and intelligence circles, who was dismissed from the Pentagon’s top intelligence post in late 2014 for what his superiors called a too-contentious style. He has declared the Islamic ideology “sick” and called for Hillary Clinton to be imprisoned.

Pompeo was among Clinton’s sharpest critics on the House Intelligence and Benghazi committees. He was an executive in the aerospace and oil industries before his election to Congress in 2010.


The American Civil Liberties Union noted that it does not take a position supporting or opposing presidential or judicial nominations, but urged close examination of Sessions’ and Pompeo’s records during their upcoming confirmation hearings.

“Sen. Sessions has called the ACLU un-American and communist, assertions we flatly reject,“ ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement. “His positions on LGBT rights, capital punishment, abortion rights, and presidential authority in times of war have been contested by the ACLU and other civil rights organizations.”

The ACLU also raised questions about Pompeo’s positions on surveillance and the Guantanamo Bay prison. The Kansas Republican has long argued for expanding the government’s surveillance powers. He has also argued against closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, saying he wants to keep terrorists out of Kansas and America.

Democratic lawmakers, who spent much of the week talking about finding common ground with the president-elect, reversed course in their statements on the Cabinet selections.

“The president-elect has made pervasive Islamophobia a central qualification for his national security team,” Virginia Rep. Don Beyer Jr. said in a statement. “I do not expect to agree with President-elect Trump on most issues, but I do expect him to lead responsibly.”

New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the incoming Senate minority leader, nodded to reports that Sessions has been well-liked in the Senate, but said that should not make a difference to the confirmation process.

“I know Sen. Sessions, and we work out in the gym, but the fact that he is a senator does not absolve him from answering tough questions in the confirmation process,” Schumer said in a statement. “Given some of his past statements and his staunch opposition to immigration reform, I am very concerned about what he would do with the civil rights division at the Department of Justice and want to hear what he has to say.”

House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer also raised concerns about Sessions’ past statements.

“There can be no justification for confirming any nominee, for any position, who has made disparaging remarks about minorities and immigrants,” the Maryland Democrat said.

Sessions did pick up one Democratic Senate supporter on Friday. An aide to Sen. Joe Manchin III confirmed that the West Virginia Democrat will back Sessions for attorney general. 

Several Republican lawmakers issued statements in support of their colleagues.

Congrats to Jeff,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa tweeted, adding that Sessions’ nomination was “quite a boost” for constitutional government and Grassley’s oversight. 

North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, a Judiciary Committee member, lauded Sessions’ “productive and gracious exchanges of ideas.”

“From my experience working with him on the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, I consider him to be hands-down one of the fairest and most accessible chairmen of any congressional committee,” he said.

California GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence chairman, called Pompeo “one of the most respected voices in the House of Representatives on national security issues.”

John T. Bennett and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report. 

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