Democrat Senator Cory Booker testified today that Jeff Sessions is the wrong man to lead the Department of Justice, saying the Alabama senator's lengthy record in Congress exposed views that are inconsistent with the venerated job he is now seeking.
In a passionate speech from a witness chair, Booker ticked off issue after issue, asserting in each instance that Sessions, a Republican, would not seek justice as the US attorney general.
"If confirmed, Senator Sessions will be required to pursue justice for women, but his record indicates that he won't," Booker said.
"He will be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian and transgender Americans, but his record indicates that he won't. He will be expected to defend voting rights, but his record indicates that he won't. He will be expected to defend the rights of immigrants and affirm their human dignity, but the record indicates that he won't."
The remarks mark the first time a sitting senator has testified against a colleague's nomination for a Cabinet post, and they were among the most notable on the second day of Sessions's confirmation hearing.
Booker said he knew "many of my colleagues aren't happy that I am breaking with Senate tradition," but, "in the choice between standing with Senate norms or standing up to what my conscience tells me what is best for my country, I will always choose conscience and country".
Then he came after Sessions perhaps more forcefully than any witness before him.
"Senator Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requisite of the job - to aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights and justice for all of our citizens," Booker said. "In fact, at numerous times in his career, he has demonstrated a hostility toward these convictions."
Supporters and detractors presented legislators with duelling images of Sessions, their views largely reinforcing what is already known about President-elect Donald Trump's pick to lead the Department of Justice.
To those in law enforcement and conservative legal circles, Sessions is an honourable man, dedicated to enforcing the law no matter his personal views. To civil rights, immigration and other advocates, he is a lawmaker whose record makes him a troubling selection to lead the Department of Justice.
Former attorney general Michael Mukasey said Sessions is "thoroughly dedicated to the rule of law and the mission of the [Justice] department". Peter Kirsanow, a member of the US Commission on Civil Rights, said his voting record and actions "demonstrate an unwavering commitment to equal protection under the law".
But David Cole, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that record "raises serious questions about the fitness of Senator Sessions to be an attorney general for all American people." And Amita Swadhin, a rape survivor, laid out an emotional case to oppose the confirmation, attacking Sessions for saying that grabbing a woman by the genitals does not necessarily constitute sexual assault.
Sessions' comment came in the wake of a video that showed Trump talking about such conduct. The senator has since said his remarks were bungled, and yesterday he asserted unequivocally that grabbing a woman by the genitals is sexual assault.
"Millions of sexual-assault survivors were triggered in the wake of these events," Swadhin said.
On the first day of the hearing, Sessions answered questions for more than 10 1/2 hours, attempting to convince his colleagues that he is worthy of becoming attorney general. Today, lawmakers questioned 15 witnesses.
Sessions is expected to be confirmed, and Democrats failed to land any fatal blows on the first day of the hearing. Sessions seized the moment to assure the American public that he could set aside campaign rhetoric and enforce the law fairly.