“Senators, your duty is clear.” Heads and cell phones turned as James Burch, an organizer from San Francisco, interrupted the confirmation hearing for Trump’s pick for secretary of state. “You must reject Rex Tillerson,” Burch said as he was forcefully removed from the Senate hearing. “The people do not want an oil man as secretary of state.”
Burch was one of many who interrupted the confirmation hearings of both Tillerson and Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for attorney general. More than 30 of these activists were arraigned in D.C. Superior Court Wednesday.
The large number of interruptions is “an indication that people across the country are standing up to Trumpism and Trump appointees,” said Mark Goldstone, an attorney representing many of the accused, who come from different organizations. “Their voices will certainly not be silenced.”
Like Tillerson, who until recently was CEO of Exxon Mobil, activist Carson Chavana attended University of Texas at Austin. The 27-year-old organizer made the trip to D.C. from Texas to voice her opposition to her fellow alumni.
“As the ex-CEO of the largest oil company, Rex Tillerson is unfit and unqualified to be our chief diplomat,” Chavana said outside the courtroom. “It would be un-American to confirm a man who’s so clearly interested in profits over people’s lives.”
In addition to Tillerson, activists are alarmed by Trump’s other cabinet picks, in particular Sessions. “These are not some people who I merely dislike,” Burch said after Wednesday’s arraignment. “These are people whose appointments will be dangerous for our country.”
Fearing Sessions’ ascension to attorney general, activists from Democracy Spring and Howard University’s chapter of the NAACP held a sit-in at the Alabama senator’s D.C. office as his confirmation hearing got under way January 10. These activists were among those in court Wednesday.
The NAACP – which Sessions accused of being “un-American” – called the senator’s nomination “deeply troubling,” citing his “disdain for our nation’s civil rights laws” and consistent opposition to voting protections, which he would be charged to protect.
Sessions’ past is so checkered the Senate Judiciary Committee, heeding the words of Coretta Scott King, took the unusual step of voting down his bid to become a federal judge thirty years ago. Sessions’ “reprehensible conduct,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow wrote, “should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.”
“We see appointing him as an insult to all those who have struggled and sacrificed to realize the universal right to vote,” said Democracy Spring co-founder Kai Newkirk, who took part in the sit-in at Sessions’ office.
“The Republican Party can’t win a free and fair election in this country at this point,” but instead must rely on voting restriction, gerrymandered districts, the electoral college and the backing of billionaires, said Newkirk.
As Trump falsely asserts voter fraud caused him to lose the popular vote, Newkirk fears this could be “a cover” to increase voter suppression, an acute worry for him if Sessions becomes attorney general.
As Sessions’ office was occupied, activists also intervened at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
“When he began to speak I felt like some truth needed to be brought into the room,” said Carl Dix, with Refuse Fascism and the Revolutionary Communist Party. “Sessions is a racist. He’s illegitimate,” Dix said before being hauled out of the hearing.
Also at the confirmation hearing was Tighe Barry of Codepink. “White people own this country!” Barry, dressed in KKK costume, said to senators.
Joining him, also in a KKK outfit, was Lenny Bianchi, a retired electronic security technician and volunteer firefighter from Bluemont, Va. Bianchi said he spoke out because of Sessions’ “many racist comments” and “racist positions.”
The Sessions and Tillerson hearings were also interrupted by members from other groups, including Witness Against Torture, CASA de Maryland and Greenpeace. The activists were charged with variations of unlawful disruption of Congress, and given a stay away order from the Capitol grounds until their hearings, scheduled for February 17.
Tillerson’s nomination was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday; the full Senate could vote on his appointment next week. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee used committee rules to delay a vote on Sessions’ appointment until next week.