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Booker Breaks Precedent by Testifying Against Sessions

Says AG designee’s record is ’concerning in a number of ways’

Booker will testify against his colleague. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Booker will testify against his colleague. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Cory Booker will on Wednesday take the apparently unprecedented step of testifying against the confirmation of fellow Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be attorney general, a move that could firm up Booker’s progressive bona fides ahead of a possible 2020 presidential bid.

“I do not take lightly the decision to testify against a Senate colleague,” Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said in a statement. “But the immense powers of the attorney general, combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee is a call to conscience.”

[Democrats to Grill Sessions on Race, Civil Rights]

“Sen. Sessions’ decades-long record is concerning in a number of ways, from his opposition to bipartisan criminal justice reform to his views on bipartisan drug policy reform, from his efforts earlier in his career to deny citizens voting rights to his criticism of the Voting Rights Act, from his failure to defend the civil rights of women, minorities, and LGBT Americans to his opposition to commonsense, bipartisan immigration reform,” said Booker, who is African-American.

Booker’s office told Roll Call that the Senate Historical Office could find no precedent for a senator testifying against a sitting colleague at a confirmation hearing.

[Senators Gear Up for Confirmation Battles]

Booker’s testimony is scheduled for Wednesday at the Judiciary Committee, where he will join witnesses including the new chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

“The attorney general is responsible for ensuring the fair administration of justice, and based on his record, I lack confidence that Sen. Sessions can honor this duty,” Booker said.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other Democrats have raised concerns about Sessions’ record on civil rights. In 1986, Sessions failed to be confirmed for a federal judgeship due to allegations of racist comments. 

But GOP lawmakers have defended Sessions, saying he is not prejudiced. Republican Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama and Susan Collins of Maine will be introducing Sessions on Tuesday.

Booker has been an outspoken advocate for a criminal justice overhaul, citing poverty and a lack of educational opportunities as issues contributing to the cost of maintaining the population of incarcerated people in the United States.

Some key African-Americans and Democratic Party players have nonetheless been reluctant to embrace Booker, who seemingly has the capacity to operate without their blessing. Liberal groups in particular have been wary of the New Jersey Democrat’s dealings with corporate America.

Booker is frequently mentioned as a possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. He served as a media proxy for President Barack Obama in the 2012 election.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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