Amid the confirmation hearing for Donald Trump’s choice to be the next Attorney General, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) bemoaned how critics on the left were characterizing the selection.
Hatch said that the nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), was not too far on the right to merit consideration.
He then got Sessions to commit to the possibility of enforcing anti-obscenity laws with renewed vigor.
“It was part of the Department of Justice for a long time and I would consider that,” Sessions said, when asked by Hatch about reestablishing a specific anti-obscenity division within the Department of Justice.
The commitment to fundamentalist laws came as something of a surprise, though Hatch has brought up the issue with every Attorney General nominee he has overseen.
Anti-obscenity statutes were not defended, or even brought up much, by Republicans during the past presidential campaign; one in which their candidate was caught on video graphically encouraging sexual assault and adultery.
More par for the course was Republicans’ general defense of Sessions’ agenda and record.
The branding effort was always going to be an uphill battle, however, with Sessions having been seen as too racist in the 1980’s, by the Senate Judiciary Committee, to be granted a position as a federal judge. Sessions had been nominated by then-President Ronald Reagan.
At one point, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) complained that Sessions was being unfairly maligned for being “a conservative from the south.”
“That means something other than ‘a conservative from the south,’ in your case,” Graham stated.
As a number of Democratic senators noted, however, Sessions’ history of “recent” roll call votes and statements have richly evidenced the lawmaker’s prejudicial and, sometimes, authoritarian views.
Newly-appointed ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pointed out how Sessions “spoke for 30 minutes” against a 2015 resolution that denounced religious tests for entrants to the US–a policy advocated by Trump, in December 2015, when he floated the idea of banning Muslims from entering the country.
Feinstein also noted how Sessions voted against “bipartisan immigration bills” and sought to deny any kind of legal status to children brought to the country as undocumented immigrants “through no choice of their own.”
She additionally brought up Sessions’ past defense of torture techniques used by intelligence agents under President George W. Bush, and his dismissal of the existence of hate crimes.
Feinstein remarked that concerns about Sessions’ views have been so widespread throughout the country, that the committee received a letter condemning his nomination from law professors “from 49 states.”
“Only Alaska was left out,” she said. “I inquired why and they said: ‘because Alaska doesn’t have a law school.”
Sessions became the first US Senator to come out in support of Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency, in February 2015. The endorsement did not come as a surprise. In the run-up to the Republican primary, as Feinstein noted, Sessions stuck his neck out to defend Trump’s anti-Muslim proposal.
In October 2015, Sessions also cited bogus statistics that had been put forth by a leader of the Italian far-right to malign refugees as “economic migrants.”
On Tuesday, Democrats especially took issue with other stats cited by Sessions. They disputed an assertion he made in written testimony–about crime rates being unprecedented.
“FBI data actually shows that all crimes decreased 1.8% between 2014 and 2015,” Democrat committee staffers said in a press release. The aides added that many cities experienced lower crime rates in the same time frame and that “overall national crime rates are still at historic lows compared to peaks in the 1980’s and 1990’s.”