WASHINGTON ― Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) on Wednesday moved along the path to be confirmed as the 84th attorney general of the United States, less than 48 hours after President Donald Trump fired the acting attorney general for declining to defend his refugee ban.
Democrats delayed a vote on Sessions in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. But in a party-line vote the next day, 11 Republicans on the committee voted to advance Sessions’ nomination to the full Senate. All nine Democrats voted no.
“Shame! Shame! Shame!” a protester yelled from the gallery immediately after the vote.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) ― who was a “Saturday Night Live” writer when Sessions was shot down as a federal judge back in 1986 ― laid out his opposition to Alabama Republican in a lengthy statement ahead of the vote. Much of Franken’s opposition centered on Sessions’ record on civil rights, which advocates have criticized.
Franken joined other Democrats in praising former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who Trump fired on Monday night.
“This nation owes her a debt of gratitude,” Franken said of Yates. An attorney general should be able to separate “fact from fiction” and speak truth to power, Franken said, noting these were things he didn’t think Sessions would do.
Yates believed the federal government was likely to fail if it tried to defend Trump’s executive order in court, one of her associates told The Huffington Post ― in large part due to statements from the president and others that indicated the ban was intended to discriminate. Yates, who left the Justice Department building quietly on Monday night, has declined interview requests since she was fired.
The Yates associate noted that Yates and the Trump administration had largely delayed any major decisions during this transition period. However, the administration’s decision to move forward with the executive order on refugees meant Yates had to either defend the immigration ban or resign. The associate said they had expected a strong reaction from the White House, but hadn’t necessarily expected that she’d be fired so quickly.
The acting attorney general is currently Dana Boente, a long-time career prosecutor who has indicated he will allow DOJ attorneys to defend Trump’s immigration executive order in court.