Donald Trump has offered the post of Attorney General to Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, one of his closest advisors and his first endorser in the Senate.
This is not the first time that Sessions has been nominated by the president of the United States. He was nominated 30 years ago by none other than President Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship.
In 1986, Sessions was dogged by racist comments he made while he was the U.S. attorney in Alabama. He was alleged to have called a black assistant U.S. attorney “boy” and the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.”
Aside from being Trump’s earliest senatorial endorsement, Sessions is one of the architects of his immigration, counterterrorism and trade policies. His name has been floated for attorney general and secretary of defense. The Trump transition team released a statement about Sessions that sounded like it was came directly from Trump’s own mouth, saying that the president-elect was “unbelievably impressed” with the Senator, citing his work as a U.S. attorney and state attorney general for Alabama.
A Republican controlled Senate confirmed Sessions as U.S. attorney in 1981 for the Southern District of Alabama. However, in 1986, his racially charged comments and record on civil rights as U.S. attorney, which Sessions denied and defended, prevented his nomination as judge from going forward, even though the Senate still had a GOP majority.
“Mr. Sessions is a throwback to a shameful era, which I know both black and white Americans thought was in our past,” said the late Massachusetts Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy during the confirmation hearing. “It is inconceivable to me that a person of this attitude is qualified to be a U.S. attorney, let alone a U.S. federal judge.”
Aside from the comments made to the black assistant U.S. attorney, Sessions was criticized for joking n the presence of an attorney with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division that the Ku Klux Klan was “Ok” until he learned that they smoked marijuana. During his confirmation hearing, Sessions said that it “was a silly comment, I guess you might say, that I made.”
Sessions said that he never meant the joke to suggest support for the Klan. He said the joke was intended to convey that he thought it was “bizarre” that Klansmen had smoked marijuana after one of their meetings. “All of us understood that the Klan is a force for hatred and bigotry and it just could not have meant anything else than that under those circumstances,” he said.
Circumstances are significantly different this time around. Only one of the senators who opposed his confirmation in 1986 is still in the Senate. He is also facing confirmation as a member of the chamber that is asked to confirm him. Traditionally, senators are deferential to current and former members who are nominated for Cabinet posts. The last time the Senate rejected one of its own was when George H.W. Bush nominated Senator John G. Tower for his Secretary of Defense. The Texas Republican could not get confirmed because of reports of heavy drinking and womanizing.
Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala) issues a statement on Thursday night:
“Not only would Jeff bring integrity and immense expertise to the role of Attorney General due to his decades of experience in the legal field and an impressive tenure on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Jeff has also gained the deep respect of his Senate colleagues for his commitment to upholding the rule of law. My wife Annette and I are proud of Jeff’s accomplishments and wish him and his wife Mary the very best during this exciting transition.”
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) said in a statement:
“If you have nostalgia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible and women stayed in the kitchen, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man. No senator has fought harder against the hopes and aspirations of Latinos, immigrants, and people of color than Sen. Sessions.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement expressing his strong support for the nomination.
— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) November 18, 2016