The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) as the next attorney general in President Donald Trump's administration after an intense debate the prior night that left one senator barred from speaking against Sessions for violating Senate rules.
Sessions, who has served in the Senate since 1997, was the first sitting senator to officially endorse then-candidate Donald Trump in February 2016, and was credited with helping shape many of Trump's early policies, including on immigration.
Sessions, 70, was confirmed on a nearly party-line vote, 52-47. Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.V.) was the only Democrat to cross party lines to support Sessions, who himself only voted present.
Democrats have vigorously opposed Sessions' nomination since Trump picked him in November to head the Justice Department. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), for example, has argued that Sessions would not be an independent legal voice capable of standing up to the president.
"We certainly need an attorney general who will stand up to that president …. But [Sessions] is not, if you can say one thing about him, he's not independent of Donald Trump," Schumer said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) accused Sessions, who previously served as attorney general of Alabama and U.S. attorney for the southern district of Alabama, of being an "insult" to African Americans for alleged racially insensitive comments. She also said on Tuesday night that Sessions has no business being involved in the U.S. judicial system and called him a "disgrace," leading Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) to reprimand her for violating Senate Rule 19, which says senators are not allowed to "directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator."
Warren was barred from speaking on the Senate floor against Sessions for the remainder of the debate as a result.
To counter accusations of racial bias, many of Sessions' supporters and colleagues have noted his prosecution of two Klu Klux Klan members for killing a black youth, among other actions, the Washington Post reported.
His supporters have pointed to his prosecution as U.S. Attorney of two Ku Klux Klan members for killing a black youth, and his co-sponsoring of legislation to honor civil rights activist Rosa Parks with the Congressional Gold Medal. To underscore the point, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R., S.C.) on Tuesday went to the floor and put on display an enlarged photograph of a "governmental award of excellence" given to Sessions in 2009 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Alabama chapter–an award that he said Sessions "forgot to tell us about." The plaque was engraved with the words "for the outstanding work you do."
Said Graham: "His biggest crime is, I think, that he's very conservative. That to me is not a disqualifier, any more than being liberal is a disqualifier."
McConnell on Wednesday said, "It's been tough to watch all this good man has been put through in recent weeks. This is a well-qualified colleague with a deep reverence for the law. He believes strongly in the equal application of it to everyone."
Alveda C. King, the niece of civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr., also defended Sessions on Wednesday hours before the confirmation, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
"She would agree today that he of course ended some school desegregation. He worked to prosecute members of the KKK. Aunt Coretta was a very reasonable woman and she, with integrity, would have noted that he had done some great work infighting against discrimination," King said.
"It's almost like a bait and switch. Stir up their emotions, use the name of King–and my name is Alveda King–stir up people's emotions, play the race card, which she was attempting to do," King added.