Sen. Chuck Schumer on Friday said President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be attorney general raises concerns about immigration and the Justice Department’s enforcement of civil rights.
Schumer, the New York Democrat who will be the Senate minority leader next year, has for years battled Sessions over the ideology of judicial nominees, immigration overhauls and civil rights.
“I know Senator Sessions, and we work out in the gym, but the fact that he is a senator does not absolve him from answering tough questions in the confirmation process,” Schumer said in a statement.
“Given some of his past statements and his staunch opposition to immigration reform, I am very concerned about what he would do with the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice and want to hear what he has to say,” Schumer said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised Trump’s choice of Sessions and promised a prompt hearing and vote on the nomination.
“Jeff is principled, forthright, and hardworking. He cares deeply about his country and the Department he will be nominated to lead,” McConnell said in a statement.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller sought to soften the image of Sessions.
“Sen. Sessions is someone who is universally respected across party lines,” Miller said, adding he had the experience of being U.S. attorney for Alabama and 15 years in the Justice Department.
Miller added that the Alabama senator had voted for President Barack Obama’s nomination of Eric Holder to be the first black attorney general in 2009 and a congressional Gold Medal of Honor for Rosa Parks, a civil rights icon who in 1955 refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Ala.
Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump and lent a top aide, Stephen Miller, to the New York billionaire during his campaign. Sessions and Miller provided Trump much of his ammunition for his attack on U.S. immigration policies.
For the past decade, Sessions has become the top opponent to efforts by both the Bush and Obama administrations to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul that would provide a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million noncitizens here without legal permission.
Schumer’s warning also recalls how Sessions, a conservative, has long faced accusations of racial insensitivity.
In 1986, the Senate rejected his nomination as a federal district judge after Justice Department co-workers said he had called the ACLU and NAACP “un-American” and complained that they “force civil rights down the throats of people.”
Sessions responded to that defeat by running for public office. In 1996, he won his seat in the Senate.
Since then, Sessions has amassed a solid conservative record. He has proposed a resolution supporting the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, tried to end minority contracting set-asides and opposed major immigration reform efforts.
After the 9/11 attacks, Sessions defended President George W. Bush’s sweeping use of executive authority to pursue the war on terrorism, backed secret domestic surveillance and was one of nine Republicans to vote against a bill by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to ban “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” of suspected terrorists.
And Sessions voted against bills pushed successfully by Schumer and the New York delegation to win $50 billion in federal funding for rebuilding after superstorm Sandy in 2013 and for the initial passage and renewal of the Zadroga Act to help 9/11 first responders.