White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended the abysmal civil rights record of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, during a press briefing on Tuesday.
“Senator Sessions’ record on voting and civil rights is exemplary,” Spicer said in response to April Ryan, a White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks. “He has fought very hard as both an attorney general in Alabama and as a U.S. attorney, and then as a senator, for voting rights, for civil rights, on areas of minority rights.”
“When the Voting Rights Act came up for renewal, he was a huge champion of it. So it’s not just his record as an attorney but as a United States senator, he has been a very forceful advocate of the continuation of the Voting Rights Act,” Spicer added, pointing to Sessions’ overseeing the prosecution of two Klansmen when he was a U.S. attorney.
But in 2013, Sessions supported gutting key provisions from the Voting Rights Act. A Senate Judiciary Committee blocked Sessions from being a federal judge in 1986 due to concerns that he was too racist to do the job fairly. When Sessions was a U.S. attorney, he prosecuted three black activists over the charge of disputed absentee ballots. A black assistant U.S. attorney claimed that Sessions had called him “boy,” joked about the Ku Klux Klan and called the NAACP “anti-American.”
Trump’s lack of meetings with civil rights leaders was also discussed. The president of the NAACP, according to Ryan, said Trump’s administration is “stereotyping by omission” by sitting down with athletes and celebrities instead of civil rights leaders. Kanye West, Steve Harvey and NFL legends Ray Lewis and Jim Brown have met with Trump to discuss issues facing black Americans. They have also spent time trying to convince people that Trump isn’t racist.
Spicer’s response was similar to a star football player fumbling on the last play of a close game.
“Just the other day he sat down with Martin Luther King Jr.,” he said. “I would call him a civil rights leader.”
Spicer was referring to a sit-down between Trump and King’s son, Martin Luther King III. After several reporters corrected Spicer’s slip, the press secretary said Trump has “done a lot for that” and “has met with a lot of individuals on that issue throughout the campaign.”
“I don’t think it’s something that he takes lightly. He has talked about it tremendously because it’s important to him ― both in terms of where this country moves forward and some of the issues that face some of the minority communities,” Spicer said.
When Ryan asked about rolling out a plan and the promises Trump has made to “fix” communities of color, Spicer once again fumbled.
“We’re on day two and look what he is doing. I think when you look at the jobs programs, the Dakota pipeline, the Keystone pipeline ― the things that are going to bring jobs back, and good paying jobs with benefits ― those benefit every American regardless of the color of your skin,” Spicer said.