WASHINGTON (AFP) - Democratic US Senator Cory Booker took the unprecedented step Wednesday (Jan 11) of testifying against a Republican colleague nominated to be Donald Trump's attorney general, saying Jeff Sessions's civil rights record deserved scrutiny.
Booker - who may be seeking to highlight his progressive bona fides ahead of a potential 2020 presidential run - apparently became the first sitting US senator to testify against another senator nominated to a cabinet post.
Booker, 47, acknowledged that some of his colleagues "are unhappy that I am breaking with Senate tradition to testify on the nomination of one of my colleagues."
But he insisted that Sessions was unfit to become the nation's top law-enforcement officer at a time of heightened concern about race in America following the divisive 2016 presidential election campaign.
Appearing alongside other Congressional Black Caucus members, Booker said Sessions was not prepared to stand up for America's marginalized.
"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 towards these convictions," he added.
"In the choice between standing with Senate norms or standing up for what my conscience tells me is best for our country, I will always choose conscience and country."
The two men are worlds apart.
Sessions, 70, is from a different generation, a genteel white former federal prosecutor from Alabama in the Deep South.
Booker is the first African American elected to the Senate since current President Barack Obama in 2004. He grew up near Newark, New Jersey, where he later served as mayor, and said he has "seen unimaginable violence on American streets."
Sessions stands accused of making racially charged comments toward African-Americans and about civil rights early in his professional life, and his 1980s nomination to a federal judgeship was torpedoed over the allegations.
On Tuesday, the hearing's first day, Sessions strongly rejected the charges as "damnably false."
Two African Americans testified in support of Sessions Wednesday, including lawyer Willie Huntley, who said that "at no point in the time that I've known Jeff has he demonstrated any racial insensitivity."
Booker's testimony comes at a dispiriting juncture for Democrats, with their nemesis Trump, who defeated Hillary Clinton in November, taking office in nine days.
The party - soundly beaten in federal, state and local races in recent years - has struggled to find fresh talent, but Booker is seen as a rising star.
Along with Senator Elizabeth Warren and possibly Vice President Joe Biden, Booker is viewed as a potential frontrunner for his party's 2020 nomination.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton was dismissive of Booker's testimony, writing on Facebook that "this hearing simply offers a platform for his presidential aspirations."