What to expect from the Jeff Sessions confirmation hearing for attorney general

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

This could get wild.

Jeff Sessions will face his Senate colleagues in a Tuesday morning hearing on his nomination to serve as President-elect Donald Trump's attorney general, and emotions are running high.

Here's some of what you can expect.

Democrats will tear into the Sessions record on race

The Alabama senator has faced an onslaught of criticism over his track record, and all that will come out as he faces his questioners. 

In a hint of what's to come, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, told Time that Sessions "has been more anti-immigration than just about any other single member of Congress." He added that, "in the past, Senator Sessions has been no friend to the Voting Rights Act."

That's probably one of the more delicate remarks in the run-up to the hearing on Sessions, who has been rebuked for once calling the NAACP "un-American" and "Communist-inspired."

"Sen. Sessions appears to subscribe to outdated ideas about criminal justice policy that conservatives, progressives, and law enforcement have come to agree do not help reduce crime and unnecessarily increase the prison population," stated a Brennan Center for Justice analysis, one of many released ahead of the controversial hearing.

And Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who became a household name after raising his pocket copy of the Constitution on the stage of the Democratic National Convention, has also spoken out against Sessions. "The most minimal standard for leading the Department of Justice must be a demonstrated commitment to pursuing justice for all Americans," Khan wrote to the Judiciary Committee. "Mr. Sessions fails to meet that standard."

Sessions will defend his qualifications to the hilt

In his prepared opening statement, the longtime lawmaker makes a personal appeal to his fellow legislators and frames himself as a lover of the law: 

I come before you today as a colleague who has worked with you for years, and with some of you for 20 years. You know who I am. You know what I believe in. You know that I am a man of my word and can be trusted to do what I say I will do. You know that I revere our Constitution and am committed to the rule of law. And you know that I believe in fairness, impartiality and equal justice under the law.

Clearly, Sessions comes to the arena aware of the potential beating he could take from his foes.

That's not just because his nomination has been protested by those who say he's been racially insensitive, at best, in the past.

The Congressional Black Caucus has come down publicly on Sessions.
Source: 
Zach Gibson/AP

Sessions has been through this before: As NBC News noted, "In 1986, the Senate Judiciary Committee killed President Ronald Reagan's nomination of Sessions to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama after four former Justice Department colleagues testified that he had made racially offensive statements."

To that end, Sessions' opening statement pointedly included conciliatory lines meant to show he's willing to face and even reach out to his critics. 

Among those rhetorical olive branches: "I deeply understand the history of civil rights and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African-American brothers and sisters," the Sessions statement reads. "I have witnessed it. I understand the demands for justice and fairness made by the LGBT community. I understand the lifelong scars born by women who are victims of assault and abuse."

Sen. Cory Booker will make history

Booker is taking the unusual step of testifying against one of his own Senate colleagues by speaking out against the Sessions nomination.

"I do not take lightly the decision to testify against a Senate colleague," Booker said, as quoted by CNN. "But the immense powers of the attorney general combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee is a call to conscience."

Georgia representative and famed civil rights figure John Lewis and Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, both of whom are Democrats, will also testify against Sessions.

And, in another rare move, an official from the American Civil Liberties Union will testify as well.

Team Trump wages a pro-Sessions social media campaign

The president-elect's social media machine is already grinding away at promoting Sessions as fit and qualified to serve as attorney general.

It's a multi-pronged approach. General defenses of Sessions' character, highlighting endorsements from prominent figures — including a group of black pastors — and tearing down Sessions' critics.

This so far has largely depended on surrogates, but don't be surprised if Trump himself tweets in on the act — if he's done flaming Meryl Streep, that is.

This could take awhile

Don't expect the hearing to go quickly. Sessions has many critics who will surely want their statements read into the record — and that doesn't even count the grilling he'll take from the dais. 

And other hearings originally set to coincide with the Sessions session — ostensibly to create a distraction from the tumultuous nature of his appointment by Trump — have been pushed back, clearing the way for an extended fight. 

Buckle up!

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Celeste Katz

Celeste Katz is senior political correspondent at Mic, covering national politics. She is based in New York and can be reached at celeste@mic.com.

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