Sessions says he will not be a 'rubber stamp'

The process to confirm US President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees is under way in Congress in Washington, with Attorney-General designate Jeff Sessions kicking off the process before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Conservative senator believes Trump will heed his advice if a policy is illegal

WASHINGTON • Senator Jeff Sessions, US President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for Attorney-General, has pledged to "say no" to Mr Trump if he tries to go beyond the law. He also spoke out against torture, a ban on Muslim immigration and other ideas that had been floated by Mr Trump.

Mr Sessions, a deeply conservative Republican from Alabama who was an early Trump supporter, looks headed for confirmation after completing more than nine hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

He and his allies had girded themselves for a coordinated attack on his civil rights record but Democrats tempered their criticism and Republicans mounted a pre-emptive defence, describing him repeatedly as a man of integrity.

In his two decades on Capitol Hill, Mr Sessions has questioned whether the Constitution guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the United States, has said courts have interpreted the separation of church and state too broadly and has declared same-sex marriage a threat to American culture.

He also voted against reauthorising the Violence against Women Act.

Mr Jeff Sessions with his granddaughter. His daughter is married to an Asian-American. Mr Sessions said he would uphold laws that he had voted against previously if he became the Attorney-General. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Much of the hearing focused on Mr Sessions' long record as a prosecutor and a senator but Mr Trump proved a dominant figure in absentia for much of the debate as Democrats sought to question the President-elect by proxy.

They asked whether Mr Sessions supported Mr Trump's most controversial statements and questioned whether he had the independence to rein in the strong-willed Mr Trump if he seeks to exceed his presidential authority.

In his cool Southern drawl, Mr Sessions vowed repeatedly that he would, saying that an attorney-general "cannot be a mere rubber stamp" for the president.


If an attorney-general is asked to do something that's plainly unlawful, that person would have to resign ultimately before agreeing to execute a policy that the attorney-general believes would be unlawful or unconstitutional.

MR JEFF SESSIONS, on fending off pressure from the top.

"If an attorney-general is asked to do something that's plainly unlawful," he added, "that person would have to resign ultimately before agreeing to execute a policy that the attorney-general believes would be unlawful or unconstitutional."

But he indicated he did not believe he would reach that impasse. If he advises Mr Trump that a policy is illegal, he said "I am confident that he would" heed that advice.

Mr Sessions added that though his politics might indicate otherwise, he would abide by the Supreme Court decision underpinning abortion rights, and that he would similarly follow the ruling that legalised same-sex marriage.

He said he understands that the waterboarding of suspects to gather information is "absolutely improper and illegal".

And though he voted against a law that banned the government's bulk collection of Americans' phone records, he would uphold it as attorney-general.

He declared that he would recuse himself from any Justice Department investigations of Mrs Hillary Clinton's e-mail practices or her family's charitable foundation - mindful that his previous comments "could place my objectivity in question". He said: "We can never have a political dispute turn into a criminal dispute."

Mr Sessions spoke in a room packed with demonstrators, reporters and his family members.

The proceedings were interrupted several times by protesters declaring him "evil" or "racist".



A nation open for business under Trump

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2017, with the headline 'Sessions says he will not be a 'rubber stamp''. Print Edition | Subscribe