(WASHINGTON) — The Senate Judiciary Committee met Tuesday to discuss the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, as attorney general, but senators seemed just as intent to debate President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration as they were Sessions himself.
At issue was whether Sessions, given his closeness to Trump, would be able to make decisions independent of the president if he believed Trump’s actions were unlawful, as many Democrats have said they believe the immigration order is.
Some Democrats also used the committee setting to assert that Sessions had a hand in drafting the order, which Sessions denies.
“To suggest that he did not have influence or impact on the issuance of these executive orders is misleading. He had indirect influence at the highest levels,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said.
But committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said even if Sessions had been involved, the matter was irrelevant.
“It’s not clear to me why it would be a problem even if he had been involved but the fact of the matter is he was not involved,” Grassley said.
Sessions’ former staffer Stephen Miller, now the White House policy director, was instrumental in orchestrating and implementing the immigration executive order as well as others.
Democrats, who via procedural tactics delayed the vote on Sessions until Wednesday morning, framed their opposition to Sessions in the context of the immigration executive order, holding up former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired after she said she would not enforce the order, as an example of how an attorney general should act.
“That statement [from Yates] took a steel spine to stand up and say no,” the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said.
She contrasted Yates with Sessions’ support of Trump on the campaign trail. “He was the first senator to endorse. He has attended at least 45 Trump campaign events. He wore the hat. He was a leading voice. And during the campaign, he spoke at large rallies, smiling while crowds chanted, ‘Lock her up!'”
Spokespeople for Grassley and Sessions did not respond to requests for comment.
The Judiciary Committee’s vote to refer Sessions to the full Senate floor is expected to take place Wednesday morning.
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