Senate Republicans announced plans Tuesday to move quickly through the confirmation process for Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the next attorney general, while Democrats requested they have enough time at hearings to examine the Alabama Republican’s controversial record on issues such as immigration and civil rights.
Combined with vocal opposition to Sessions’s nomination from progressive advocacy groups, the sparring over the schedule foreshadowed a contentious confirmation hearing in January for the former prosecutor.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, said Tuesday that he intends to hold confirmation hearings for Sessions ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration of Donald Trump as president. That timeline is similar to the confirmation process for two recent attorneys general: John Ashcroft before George W. Bush took office in 2001 and Eric H. Holder Jr. before Barack Obama took office in 2009.
In brief comments before a meeting with Sessions, Grassley told reporters in his Capitol Hill office that he would set a date for the confirmation hearings once Sessions returns the standard committee questionnaire that covers work history and other information about nominees.
Grassley, in a statement following the meeting, said the previous four attorney general confirmation hearings took one to two days each. Ashcroft’s hearing, however, stretched to four days. He added that Democrats have pledged a fair process for Sessions, someone Judiciary Committee members are “extremely well acquainted” with after serving with him for up to 20 years.
“Based on those commitments, I trust the other side will resist what some liberal interest groups are clearly hoping for — an attack on his character,” Grassley said in a statement. “The confirmation process of John Ashcroft to be attorney general turned into a reckless campaign that snowballed into an avalanche of innuendo, rumor and spin. That will not happen here.”
The committee’s Democrats sent a letter to Grassley on Monday asking that Sessions’ confirmation process is “thorough, transparent, and fair — not just another rubber stamp.” They noted in the letter that Grassley had not held a confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland, Obama’s pick in March to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.
The Democrats said they have cordial relationships with Sessions as a strong advocate for his political positions, but as attorney general, he will need to set aside personal beliefs in service of larger obligations. They asked for time to examine Sessions’ record on immigration, violence against women, LGBT protections, racial justice, hate crimes, workers’ rights, voting rights, criminal justice and other issues.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who will be Judiciary’s ranking Democrat in the 115th Congress, said she has no problem with four days of hearings for Sessions if that is warranted.
“The due diligence has to be done, the research has to be done, he’s been on the committee for 20 years,” Feinstein said. “Obviously if you run out of questions, they don’t last four days. I don’t see a problem with saying four days with something as important as this.”
Grassley said senators on the committee know the Alabama senator is “a very honorable man” and “a man of integrity.”
“I think everybody knows he’s going to give even-handed law enforcement as the chief law enforcement officer of the federal government,” Grassley said.
Advocacy groups were quick to oppose Sessions’ nomination to be the nation’s top law enforcement officer, overseeing the country’s immigration courts, policies on criminal prosecution for everything from drug traffickers and white-collar criminals, and civil rights issues such as voting rights.
NARAL Pro-Choice America on Twitter called Sessions a “known racist, anti-woman extremist” for his past positions to defund Planned Parenthood, support a 20-week abortion ban and oppose the Violence Against Women Act.
Immigrant advocacy groups have also raised concerns about his positions. People For the American Way President Michael Keegan called on the Senate to reject Sessions as attorney general, saying he has not changed since he had a “disastrous record on civil rights” at the time of Sessions’ failed 1986 nomination to be a federal judge.