U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, promised on Tuesday to stand up to Trump, his close ally and future boss, saying he would oppose a ban on Muslims entering the country and enforce a law against waterboarding even though he voted against the measure.
Questioned for 10-1/2 hours by a U.S. Senate committee responsible for confirming his appointment, Sessions, a U.S. senator from Alabama, distanced himself from comments he had made defending Trump from criticism over a 2005 video that emerged in October showing Trump boasting about grabbing women’s genitals.
At the time, Sessions told The Weekly Standard magazine he would not characterize the behavior as sexual assault. He later said the comments were taken out of context. Asked on Tuesday whether “grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent is … sexual assault,” he replied: “Clearly, it would be.”
With 10 days to go before Trump takes office, Sessions, 70, was the first Cabinet nominee to face questioning. He appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Trump’s pick to run the Department of Homeland Security, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, later went before the Homeland Security Committee.
As attorney general, Sessions would serve as the top U.S. law enforcement officer and be responsible for giving unbiased legal advice to the president and executive agencies.
With that in mind, lawmakers from both Trump’s Republican Party and the Democratic Party sought to establish how closely Sessions hewed to Trump positions and whether he could put aside his staunchly conservative political positions to enforce laws he may personally oppose.
A senator since 1997, Sessions was widely expected to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Protesters accusing Sessions of having a poor record on human rights interrupted the Capitol Hill proceedings several times.
Sessions said he would not support banning anyone from the United States on the basis of religion and that Trump’s intentions were to restrict people from countries harboring terrorists, not all Muslims. Elected on Nov. 8, Trump at one point campaigned on a proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.
Sessions said he favored “higher intensity of vetting” for refugees seeking to enter the United States from countries that harbor terrorists but that he would oppose ending the U.S. refugee program.
He also said he would enforce a 2015 law that outlawed waterboarding terrorism suspects even if it meant resisting Trump. The senator said he had voted against the law, believing those in high positions in the military and intelligence community should be able to do so.
During the campaign, Trump said waterboarding, which simulates drowning and is widely regarded as torture, was an effective technique and vowed to bring it back and make it “a hell of a lot worse.” More recently Trump has said retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, his nominee for secretary of defense, had persuasively argued against it.
Sessions said he would enforce laws upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, even those he disagreed with, such as decisions making abortion and same-sex marriage legal. – Reuters
Story first published: 11th January 2017