Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) became the first sitting senator to testify against a colleague in a confirmation hearing with a scorching criticism of Trump’s attorney general pick Jeff Sessions.
“The job of an attorney general requires a more courageous empathy than Sen. Sessions’s record demonstrates,” said Booker. “That record suggests that he won’t aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights, and justice for all of our citizens.”
Booker, the sole black Democrat in the Senate, announced his plan to testify two days earlier. President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team bracketed the testimony by quoting Booker’s praise for Sessions, when the two of them fought to get congressional gold medals for civil rights activists. As Booker sat behind the dais, Republicans also shared photos of Sessions marching at the 50th anniversary of the confrontation at Selma’s Edmund Pettis Bridge.
Booker told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Sessions’s voting record needed to be viewed on its own — critically. He cited Sessions’s votes on opposition to broad criminal justice reform “even at a time when the FBI director is speaking out against racial bias in policing,” and worried that he had “demonstrated a hostility” toward civil rights, voting rights, and LGBT rights in the pursuit of law-and-order policies.
“Law and order without justice is unobtainable,” said Booker. “The Alabama troopers on the Edmund Pettis Bridge were seeking law and order. The civil rights marchers were seeking justice and and ultimately peace.”
This testimony, well-covered ahead of time, was delivered in front of just three Republicans. The third and final stage of the hearing process, it started at 1 p.m., while many members of the committee were tied up with other responsibilities. Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) stayed for Booker, but the latter two senators left when he was finished. There would have been little drama had the full committee membership been in their seats, as most had announced before the end of the hearing that they would vote for Sessions.