WASHINGTON — Offering a blistering critique of attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Tuesday he will not vote to confirm him.
“He is the wrong person for this job,” Durbin said during a meeting of the GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. The GOP panel will vote on Wednesday on whether to advance Sessions’ nomination to the full Senate.
Sessions, a GOP senator from Alabama who Durbin has known for years, finds his confirmation battle even more complicated after President Donald Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday night.
Yates, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, was dumped after she told her Justice Department colleagues the department would not defend Trump’s travel bans on refugees and others from seven Muslim-majority nations.
Though Yates was never destined to stay on much longer — Trump’s team asked her to be in charge of Justice until Sessions was confirmed — her firing has become a rallying cry for Democrats, even as some Republicans question how the Trump administration implemented the travel ban.
Durbin said he was convinced, based on information in a Washington Post story, that Sessions was involved, at least indirectly, in helping draft the travel ban order.
“To suggest he did not have influence of impact on the executive order is misleading,” Durbin said.
Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump. Durbin and other Democrats seized on Sessions’ closeness to the president to also make the argument that the Justice Department, with him at the helm, could not make fair or independent legal decisions.
“We need someone with unquestioned strength, values and integrity, who at that crucial, critical Constitutional moment is prepared to stand up to this president or any president and say: ‘You are wrong and if you insist on doing this, I will resign,’ ” Durbin said.
“I cannot picture this man, who has been described by the Trump advisers as a savant and legendary, having the will or the determination to do that, and for that reason I oppose the nomination of Jeff Sessions as the attorney general of the United States,” Durbin said.
Durbin spoke for almost 30 minutes at the committee meeting, where the vote is likely to split along party lines, with the Republicans prevailing.
Durbin said Sessions’ resistance to probing Russian involvement in this last election campaign also disqualified him for the job.
Sessions was asked to provide written answers from senators about whether he would use his power as attorney general to impede an investigation. Sessions’ reply, Durbin said, was that he “did not have the time to read the unclassified intelligence memo which we had all read.”
Durbin, the No. 2 Democratic in the Senate, added, “That is either willful blindness or willful ignorance on his part, not to realize the gravity of this.
“What happened in this presidential election on Election Day was a day that will live in cyber infamy,” Durbin said. “This was an attempt by a foreign power, with values inconsistent with the United States, to change the outcome of our election specifically to benefit the current president and to defeat Hillary Clinton. Is that worth an investigation?
Durbin had signaled his reservations about Sessions after meeting with him earlier this month.
After the meeting, Durbin said Sessions would not promise to follow through on any suggestions the Justice Department was going to be making to address police misconduct in Chicago.
“My first priority was to discuss what I consider the heartbreaking, terrible situation in the city of Chicago, when it comes to the number of homicides,” Durbin said on Jan. 4.
DUCKWORTH OPPOSES DEVOS
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said on Tuesday that she will oppose the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as education secretary.
In a statement, Duckworth said DeVos did not demonstrate her “commitment to public education and her understanding of our nation’s civil rights laws. Both of these issues are personal to me. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the quality public school education I received — and much of my life today has been made possible by civil rights protections like the Americans with Disabilities Act.”