Senate Democrats doubled down Tuesday on their opposition to Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination for attorney general, delaying a confirmation vote until Wednesday and pointing to President Trump’s Monday night dismissal of the acting attorney general as evidence of the need for an independent leader of the Justice Department.
Democrats praised former Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, who defiantly announced Monday night her refusal to defend in court Mr. Trump’s executive order banning refugees and travelers from some Muslim countries, and questioned whether Mr. Sessions could be counted on to act independently of the president when warranted.
Within hours of Ms. Yates’ announcement, Mr. Trump had fired her, referring to her actions as a betrayal of the Justice Department.
“What we saw last night demonstrates what is at stake with this nomination,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said Tuesday about Ms. Yates’ actions during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.
Republicans characterized the dissent as Democrats still being bitter over Mr. Trump’s electoral victory, and sought to separate Mr. Sessions’ nomination from the controversy over the president’s executive orders.
“You can’t have it both ways. You can’t lose the election and expect the government to represent your view of what we should be doing,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. “The question is, is he qualified? Is he a decent, honorable man? He is every bit as qualified and every bit as decent as Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.”
Still, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she would not support Mr. Sessions’ nomination, citing the Alabama Republican’s early and fervent support of Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign and reports indicating he has played a key role in advising the president on his executive orders.
“We are being asked to vote on a nominee that will have to stand up to a president who is clearly willing to ignore the law and even issue orders that are in violation of the constitution,” Ms. Feinstein said.
The California Democrat said Ms. Yates’ actions “took guts.”
“That is what an attorney general must be willing and able to do,” she said. “I have no confidence that Senator Sessions will do that.”
Mr. Trump’s order, signed Friday, indefinitely halts the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S. and temporarily bars travel to the U.S. by nearly all citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.
Mr. Sessions has denied involvement in the drafting of the president’s executive orders.
The Judiciary Committee had been set to vote Tuesday on the nomination so that it could be sent to the full Senate for consideration, but lengthy statements by Democrats led committee Chairman Chuck Grassley to delay a vote until Wednesday.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Republicans described Mr. Sessions as a colleague with whom they have disagreed at times but one they believe could be counted on to uphold the law.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said voters viewed Mr. Sessions as “an antidote to the politicization of the Department of Justice” under Attorneys General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Loretta E. Lynch.
Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said he has faith that Mr. Sessions would enforce the law and act independently of the president.
“Everyone on this committee — Republican and Democrat — knows Senator Sessions to be a man of integrity and a man of his word,” Mr. Grassley said. “Because we know him to be a man of his word, we know that he will uphold and enforce all laws, equally, without regard to person, as he pledged.”
Mr. Sessions’ nomination is expected to be approved when lawmakers eventually vote, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats in the Senate and none on the committee giving any indication of breaking ranks.
The Judiciary Committee is to reconvene at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.