Hearings regarding incoming cabinet appointments commenced on Tuesday, with the questioning of Donald Trump’s attorney general pick, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.
The duty of the U.S. attorney general is to uphold and enforce the laws of the nation — a role the NAACP and other civil rights groups argue the senator is not fit to assume.
Sessions has represented Alabama in the U.S. Senate since 1996, and responded to questions about his ability to transition from the legislative to executive branch, saying, “I don’t think I have any lack of ability to separate the roles that I’ve had.”
The senator also stated on Tuesday that he would “recuse himself” from any prosecution that might emerge from investigations into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Sen. Chuck Grassley noted that current Attorney General Loretta Lynch had said she would “defer” to the FBI in regard to the Clinton Foundation email investigation, but never officially recused herself from the inquiry.
As Republicans look to tout the senator’s extensive legal track record, Democrats aim to question Sessions’ history of racially insensitive comments, which are believed to have led to his 1986 rejection from a federal judgeship.
WATCH LIVE: Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Donald Trump’s attorney general pick Jeff Sessions
The 1986 nomination failure that occurred some three decades ago marks the senator’s last appearance before the Judiciary Committee. Sessions’ nomination failed, in part, due to allegations that he described the NAACP and other civil rights groups as “un-American,” and alluded to a white lawyer’s being a disgrace to his race for representing African American clients.
In 1986, Sessions testified that he didn’t remember making these claims. On Tuesday, the senator denied owning these remarks, saying, “I never declared that the N.A.A.C.P. was ‘un-American’ or that a civil rights attorney was a ‘disgrace to his race.'”
Leading up to and during Sessions’ opening remarks, audience members reacted audibly with chants, laughs and outbursts — after which they were removed from the hearing room.
One group could be heard repeating the call, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.”
Protestors dressed in KKK robes being escorted out after standing and yelling out in protest to Sessions
— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) January 10, 2017
Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opened the committee hearing, saying the senator’s record “is a life of public service.”
The newest member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein also gave introductory remarks, in which she repeated her commitment to Sessions that the appointment approval process is going to be “fair and thorough.”
After introducing DREAMer Denisse Rojas as among those present in the audience, Sen. Feinstein recalled Sen. Sessions’ record in voting against the DREAM Act, which he called “a reckless proposal for mass amnesty.” Sessions also voted against attempts at immigration reform in 2006, 2007 and 2013.
In the wake of Trump’s focus throughout his presidential campaign on fixing American immigration policy and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, immigration and domestic security are expected to play a major roll in cabinet appointment hearings this week.
RELATED: Trump’s official picks for cabinet and administration positions
Counselor to the President :Kellyanne Conway
Transportation secretary: Elaine Chao
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Energy secretary: Rick Perry
(Photo credit KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson
Chief of staff: Reince Priebus
(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Chief strategist: Steve Bannon
(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)
Attorney General: Senator Jeff Sessions
(AP Photo/Molly Riley)
Director of the CIA: Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
White House national security adviser: Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn
(AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke, File)
Deputy national security adviser: K.T. McFarland
(Photo by Michael Schwartz/Getty Images)
White House counsel: Donald McGahn
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Ambassador to the United Nations: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley
(AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
Education secretary: Betsy DeVos
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
Health and Human Services secretary: Georgia Rep. Tom Price
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Commerce secretary: Wilbur Ross
(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Homeland security secretary: General John Kelly
(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Housing and urban development secretary: Ben Carson
(Photo credit NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Labor secretary: Andrew Puzder
(Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Health and human services secretary: Tom Price
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sen. Susan Collins listed Sessions’ state-level record of working with civil rights voter fraud cases during his 12 years as U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Alabama, a post the University of Alabama graduate assumed from 1981 to 1993. She noted the senator’s history of backing African Americans, saying, “These are not the actions of an individual who’s motivated by racial animus.”
A Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire asked Sessions to list the 10 most significant litigated matters that he personally handled, and four of those listed involved voting rights and desegregation of public schools in Alabama.
In Sen. Sessions’ opening statement, the cabinet nominee said he an “abiding commitment to pursuing and achieving justice and a record of doing just that.”
Reports emerged from independent ethics lawyers on Tuesday that Sessions failed to disclose his ownership of oil interests on more than 600 acres of Alabama land. While the holdings are reported to produce a small revenue in the range of $4,700 annually, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others have expressed concern over the omission.
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