Jeff Sessions, US attorney general nominee, faces rough ride

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[BBC] – President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to be the new attorney general is poised to get a rough ride when he appears before US senators.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, 69, will face questions about his past record on civil rights at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Senate Democrats will also challenge him over his tough immigration stance.

But they do not have the power to block his nomination because Republicans control the Senate. The attorney general, America’s top prosecutor, leads the US justice department and acts as the main adviser to the president on legal issues.

All the president’s Cabinet appointments go to a vote in the Senate, where they can be approved by a simple majority. Appointments cannot be confirmed until after Mr Trump’s inauguration on 20 January.

But first Mr Sessions must face questions on Tuesday and Wednesday from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Why is Jeff Sessions a controversial choice?

The Alabama politician, with 20 years under his belt in the Senate, is known as one of the most conservative members of the upper chamber. He was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 after the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony that he made racist remarks.

Mr Sessions was also accused of calling a black assistant US attorney “boy” and telling him to be careful about how he spoke to “white folks”. But he denied he said it.

He did admit saying the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was “un-American” and “communist-inspired”. But Republicans who have known him a long time and worked with him deny Mr Sessions is a racist. Some have pointed out he supported the award of a Congressional Gold Medal to civil rights heroine Rosa Parks.

Where does he stand on immigration?

Mr Sessions opposed bipartisan efforts to give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, and wants to limit entry to the US, both legal and illegal. He was one of the few Republicans to come to Mr Trump’s defence after he proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Mr Sessions had been “more anti-immigration than just about any other single member of Congress”.

What else might come up?

Like many Republicans, he has opposed the LGBT-rights movement, and in particular the legalisation of same-sex marriage. In 2000 and 2009 he voted against legislation which would expand the definition of a hate crime to include offences based on sexual orientation.

Women’s rights will also figure in the confirmation hearing. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said he intends to bring up the way Mr Sessions has opposed laws to curb domestic violence and sexual assault.

And Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, who is not on the committee, said he would oppose the nomination because Mr Sessions has not indicated he would support programmes that fund community policing.

Will he help to get Hillary Clinton prosecuted?

Cries of “Lock her up” rang out at rallies during Mr Trump’s campaign, by supporters angry over Mrs Clinton’s private email use. And Mr Trump vowed to get the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate.

But he said after winning the election that he would drop that pledge.

What’s the Democrats’ strategy?

They will use the two days of hearings to try to depict Mr Sessions as extreme, getting him to defend past statements and actions. They may also get him to defend some of Mr Trump’s controversial statements.

Democratic Senator Cory Booker has said he will testify against Mr Sessions on Wednesday, in what is thought to be an unprecedented move.

“The immense powers of the attorney general combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee is a call to conscience,” said the New Jersey senator.

Mr Booker pointed to the Alabama senator’s opposition to immigration reform, his criticism of the Voting Rights Act and his “failure to defend the civil rights of women, minorities, and LGBT Americans”. Civil rights hero and congressman John Lewis may also testify.