At more than eight hours long, the first day of Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing for attorney general was a marathon. The Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Sessions on a wide range of topics, including allegations of racism that have dogged the Alabama senator for years and his views on immigration as well as the government’s use of torture.
Democrats don’t have the votes to stop Sessions’ appointment. Perhaps as a result, they focused primarily on fleshing out what Sessions’ relationship would be with the president as attorney general and reminded him of the importance of an independent Justice Department.
Sessions spent a lot of the day reassuring his colleagues that he would follow the law, first and foremost, and expressing his disagreements with some of the president-elect’s more extreme proposals.
The attorney general, Sessions said, “must be willing to tell the president or other top officials no if he or they overreach” and “cannot be a mere rubber stamp.” Here are five takeaways from Day 1 of the attorney general hearings. The Senate Judiciary Committee will reconvene Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. ET.
1. Defending his record on race
Sessions has been viewed as a controversial choice for the country’s top legal adviser. In 1986, a Republican-controlled Senate rejected his nomination to a federal judgeship because he had made racially insensitive remarks and called prominent civil rights groups “un-American,” as NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported.
Sessions, a harsh critic of marijuana use, also infamously joked that he was OK with the Ku Klux Klan until he found out that they smoked pot. Protesters have doubted whether Sessions has changed his ways enough to serve as attorney general.
The question of whether Sessions will protect all citizens under the law was central to his hearing, and Sessions found himself repeatedly defending the remarks he made more than 30 years ago.
“I did not harbor the kind of animosities and race-based discrimination ideas I was accused of. I did not,” Sessions said emphatically, insisting that his earlier remarks about the NAACP in particular were taken out of context.
“There was an organized effort to caricature me as something that wasn’t true,” Sessions added. “I didn’t know how to respond and didn’t respond very well.” He also noted that he hoped this hearing would show that he was the same person as he was then, but “perhaps wiser.”