- - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Democrats took their best shots Tuesday at Sen. Jeff Sessions, the president-elect’s nominee for U.S. attorney general, and demonstrated only that it’s difficult for a gang that can’t shoot straight to do much damage with popguns that only fire blanks.

The only testimony remotely making anything resembling “news” was that the senator doesn’t like the Ku Klux Klan, waterboarding of terror suspects, or banning law-abiding Muslims from immigrating to the United States, and that he gets hundreds of plaques, certificates of appreciation and scrolls of honor from organizations he might not agree with on every issue.

The questions Mr. Sessions got from the panel of members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, some of them answered 30 years ago, ranged from serious to semi-serious to silly.

Mr. Sessions said he would not be “a rubber stamp” for Donald Trump, that he would recuse himself from participating in the Justice Department investigation into whether Hillary Clinton and her family’s foundation peddled influence in passionate pursuit of financial donations from foreign governments.

The senator, 70, reminded the senators in his opening remarks that as a prosecutor he had pushed the prosecution of klansmen for killing a young black man, and had successfully persuaded a jury to impose the death penalty. Death is persuasive evidence for most people, but it was not enough for Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, the former actor who portrayed a gorilla in skits on “Saturday Night Live” before he was elected to portray a senator in Washington.

He told Mr. Sessions that he exaggerated the execution of his duty of prosecuting civil-rights crimes. He said he was told by opposing lawyers that Mr. Sessions had “inflated” his role in prosecutions. “Our country needs an attorney general who doesn’t misrepresent or inflate,” he said.

Race, which in the Obama years has become the national preoccupation, was the dominant topic for much of the day, not only for the senators, but for several spectators. Several of them interrupted the proceedings from time to time, with shouts of “No Trump!” and “No KKK!” and were escorted out of the hearing room by Capitol Police.

Democrats have pounced on the Senate’s rejection of Mr. Sessions for a federal judgeship in 1986 as the smoking popgun that disqualifies him to be the U.S. attorney general now. “Progressives” are particularly horrified now that in a conversation with a black lawyer 30 years ago Mr. Sessions joked that he had thought the KKK “was OK until I found out that they smoke pot.”

Mr. Sessions, now having spent two decades in Washington serving four terms in the Senate, has no doubt learned that wit and humor are dangerous and sometimes fatal in Washington. Dullness is often rewarded but humor rarely is, and anyone who tries it usually learns an expensive lesson.

The Tuesday hearing was the necessary ritual, familiar to every politician, called “pandering to your base.” Clearly none of the senators expect to defeat the Sessions nomination, and few of the Democrats on the panel seemed to be doing more than going through the motions of inquiry. Jeff Sessions, a gentleman with a courtly Southern manner, is one of the most popular members of the Senate. Nobody thinks he’s a bigot, a racist or all-around bad guy, but for one day the Democrats had to act like they think he is. Tomorrow is another day.

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