Republicans broke Democrats’ attempted filibuster Tuesday and put Sen. Jeff Sessions on a glide path to becoming the next attorney general, with a final vote slated for Wednesday.
Among all of President Trump’s Cabinet picks, Mr. Sessions has been the chief target of civil rights groups, saying he represented a retreat on their issues, particularly compared to the Obama administration.
But they were unable to sway any Republicans and even lost a Democrat in the 52-47 vote.
“We all know Senator Sessions to be a man of his word. We know he’s a man who believes in the rule of law. We know him as someone who is willing to work with anyone, regardless of party — like when he teamed up on legislation with Democratic colleagues like Senator [Richard J.] Durbin and our late colleague, Ted Kennedy,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
The longtime senator was an early backer of Mr. Trump in the campaign, spotting someone who voiced the anti-illegal immigration message Mr. Sessions himself has driven for years.
Democrats said that connection with Mr. Trump was a problem for someone who will be called upon to serve as a legal check on the powers of the executive branch.
“If you can say one thing about him, he’s not independent of Donald Trump,” said Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who led the opposition.
The attacks they lodged at Mr. Sessions were fierce — particularly for someone they’ve worked alongside for decades.
Mr. Schumer said Mr. Sessions was the wrong pick on both civil rights and immigration, calling him “probably the most anti-immigrant member” in the Senate.
“Senator Sessions’ record is not a record that I think anyone who believes in civil rights could admire,” Mr. Schumer said.
Democrats fear Mr. Sessions won’t enforce civil rights laws to the extent they want to see, while on immigration their fear is that he will enforce the laws too vigorously.
Republicans said Democrats were being dragged by their left wing to oppose Mr. Sessions.
One Democrat did side with the GOP on the vote: Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who tends toward the more conservative side of his party.