This week’s confirmation hearings for Sen. Jeff Sessions portend trouble for Democrats promising to mount an effective resistance to the Trump administration.
Senate Democrats have adopted a fairly hostile posture to the full range of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees. They promised to subject each candidate to the “Garland treatment,” hoping to turn the appointments process into a slog engulfing the early months of Trump’s presidency. If any nomination was to be stymied, even scuttled, Sessions’ was the most vulnerable.
A failed confirmation had once before left Sessions a diminished figure, producing dubious if potent allegations of racism that hang around his nomination like an albatross. His positions on sentencing reform and civil asset forfeiture make him an outlier even among his Republican colleagues. A unified Democratic caucus and an aggressive message supplemented by a concerted effort to pickoff the handful of Republican senators with strong libertarian streaks could easily have beaten him back.
Instead, Sessions will almost certainly become attorney general.
Democratic disorder was on full display throughout the process. The first hours of his confirmation hearings were dedicated to substantive policy discussions, even when skeptical Democratic interlocutors had the floor. This may be responsible oversight, but it isn’t the stuff of a resistance effort. By lunch the president of the NAACP was on television having at committee Democrats for giving Sessions the easy treatment.
Sessions’ opponents even wanted for an ally in the Obama White House. Vice President Joe Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Senate Democrats should do their best to accommodate Trump’s wishes as regards the cabinet. (RELATED: Biden On Jeff Sessions: ‘The President Should Get The Person That They Want [VIDEO])
“Within bounds, the president should get the person that they want for the job as long as they commit under oath that they’re going to uphold the law,” the vice president said. “I wouldn’t have appointed Jeff but people learn, people change.”
Though the Trump presidency seems, and probably will be, a powerful banner around which Democrats will rally, the Sessions hearing placed in sharp relief the extent to which the party and its allies are scattered and directionless. The cleavages between interest groups, Senate Democrats, and the White House were wide and easily avoided. Their performance gives the appearance of flat-footedness.
The hearings were not without their successes. Sessions was made to make certain policy commitments — he will not authorize torture in contravention of congressional statutes, nor impose religious tests on immigrants. To this extent, Senate Democrats have succeeded in limiting the scope of Justice Department policy and the universe of possible choices. This is meaningful, particularly if Sessions chooses to depart from these promises. But, it’s peanuts as compared to a failed confirmation.
In the coming months, the same committee Democrats and the same interest groups have a Supreme Court confirmation to contest. They’re not ready.
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