As I noted this morning, Donald Trump’s latest strategically crazy tweet — which claimed that he won the popular vote when you discount the millions of people who “illegally” voted for Hillary Clinton — may signal a major escalation of voter suppression efforts from Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration. These could include a refusal by the Department of Justice under Trump to enforce what’s left of the Voting Rights Act and stepped up prosecution of bogus voter fraud, among other things.
Fortunately, Democrats can actually take meaningful steps to draw attention to such schemes in advance, even if they may not be able to stop them. How? By drawing a hard line on voting rights against Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick as Attorney General, at the upcoming Senate hearings on Sessions’ nomination.
A document circulating among Democratic senate staffers — which was sent my way — signals that Dems may indeed subject Sessions to very tough questioning on this topic. The document pointedly references Sessions’ “troubling record on racial minorities,” and notes that Sessions has opposed legislation that would fill the hole left behind in the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court’s gutting of the provision requiring states and localities with a history of racial discrimination to get federal preclearance for changes to voting procedures.
The document also notes that as U.S. attorney in the mid-1980s, Sessions tried to prosecute three civil rights activists for voter fraud, when they were trying to help poor, elderly, and illiterate people to vote. “The Sessions nomination deserves a thorough examination in the Senate Judiciary Committee where both Republicans and Democrats can get all of their questions answered,” it states.
This suggests that Democrats could help shed light on the Trump administration’s true designs when it comes to restricting access to voting — and that they might be gearing up to do just this — by making those lines of questioning as sharp as possible. For instance, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee — which will handle the Sessions confirmation at the outset — could press Sessions on whether he will enforce the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act against overreaching state or local efforts that restricted voting access with discriminatory intent or effect, as the current DOJ has been doing with some success in a number of recent cases.
It’s a question on which Democrats should do their best to pin Sessions down convincingly.
“One fundamental issue that Jeff Sessions has to address at his confirmation hearings is whether he supports the right of every American to vote,” Matthew Miller, a former DOJ spokesman, tells me. “At a minimum, the Department of Justice ought to be making it easier to vote, and knocking down barriers to voting.”
“His rhetoric suggests that he believes the opposite,” Miller continues. “People talk about civil rights and voting rights enforcement as if it’s optional, but it’s the law of the land. If he tears that down, it is a complete abandonment of the rule of law and millions of Americans’ civil rights.”
Now, obviously, at his confirmation hearings Sessions will murmur platitudes to the effect that of course he supports the right of every American to vote and naturally he would enforce the law of the land. He may not end up doing those things, obviously.
But Democrats would do well to draw a hard line right now. “The value is getting him on the record promising to enforce voting rights, so that if and when he doesn’t actually do it, those quotes can be thrown in his face — you promised to enforce voting rights laws and you’re not doing it,” Miller says.
Democrats may not have the power to stop the massive rollback of voting access that may be on its way. But it’s looking like there will be an epic struggle in this area, and Democrats can at least get started right away in making the contrast between the parties on voting rights in the Age of Trump as clear as possible.