Prepared Senate Floor Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
On the Nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General
February 7, 2017
Mr. President, I’d like to take a few minutes to speak in strong support of my friend, and our colleague, Senator Jeff Sessions to serve as the 84th Attorney General.
Last week, the Judiciary Committee spent over 6 hours debating this nomination. Every single Democrat opposed the nomination. But, although unfortunate, this wasn’t much of a surprise. During our Committee debate, Senator Graham correctly pointed out, based on the standard the Democrats established, it appears there’s no Republican that could earn their support.
It’s no secret that our Democrat colleagues don’t like the new President and are doing what they can to undermine the new Administration.
And of course, with respect to Senator Sessions, my Democrat colleagues disagree with a number of policy positions he has taken over the years. But this year seems to be unlike previous Administrations where Senators supported Cabinet nominees even if they disagreed with the nominee on policy grounds. That’s what happened in 2009, for instance, when Senator Sessions and I both supported Eric Holder for Attorney General, even though we disagreed with him on policy.
So, after listening to all the reasons why they’re opposing this nomination, I can boil their objections down to this: Even though many of my colleagues have known this good man for years; even though many of my colleagues have worked closely with him to pass important bipartisan legislation; even though many of them have praised him in the past for his integrity and for being a man of his word; even though Senator Sessions has pledged to support and defend all laws passed by Congress, even those he disagrees with, when it comes time to stand up in support of this good man, they’re unwilling to take him at his word.
Now, this is very troubling because all of us here in the Senate know Jeff Sessions, and some of us have known him for decades. Regardless of what my colleagues are willing to admit publicly, we all know him to be a man of deep integrity, a man of his word, and a man committed to fairness, justice, and the rule of law.
We know that when Senator Sessions served as an Assistant United States Attorney, as the United States Attorney, and as the Attorney General of Alabama he worked hard to promote the rule of law and bring justice to both victims and perpetrators.
We know he has deep commitment to the rule of law – something an Attorney General must possess.
And as I said, much of Senator Sessions’ hearing focused on his record as a legislator. Now it is true Senator Sessions has voted on legislation in ways the Left doesn’t like. And of course, I have even disagreed with him from time to time. But we all understand that every time we cast a vote we’re voting in the way we see to be best.
And I think we all also understand that very rarely is any bill a “perfect” piece of legislation. At one time or another, every single member of this body has opposed legislation based on a principled objection to a particular provision.
So, of course Senator Sessions has voted differently than his Democrat colleagues. That’s to be expected. This is the Senate. We are all about debating policy. That’s how it works.
We all know the role of Senator and the role of Attorney General are very different. A legislator debates policy and votes on legislation. The Attorney General enforces the laws as enacted. All of us here in the Senate understand the difference. Senator Sessions understands the difference better than most because, in addition to serving as a Senator for 20 years, he served in the Department of Justice for 15 years.
I’m disappointed in my colleagues who have suggested Senator Sessions won’t be able to put aside his policy preferences and enforce the law. This is especially troubling after he specifically committed to us during his confirmation hearing that, if he’s confirmed, he will follow the law, regardless of whether he supported the statute as a policy matter.
The criteria for this nomination is “Will this man, whose integrity is beyond reproach, enforce the law as he said he will?” Senator Sessions answered that question directly during his hearing. He stated, “The Justice Department must remain ever faithful to the Constitution's promise that our government is one of laws, and not of men. It will be my unyielding commitment to you, if confirmed, to see that the laws are enforced faithfully, effectively, and impartially. The Attorney General must hold everyone, no matter how powerful, accountable. No one is above the law, and no American will be beneath its protection.”
It can’t get much clearer than that.
But even after he made this promise, Senators asked Senator Sessions if he would defend laws that he had voted against. And he answered in the affirmative stating, “I would defend the statute, if it is reasonably defensible. It is passed by Congress, it would be the duty of the attorney general, whether they voted for it or support it, to defend it.”
He was questioned about a host of hot button policy issues. Time and again, his answer was the same. He will enforce the law. This will actually be quite different from the Obama Administration, which refused to enforce laws it didn’t like, and the Democrats turned a blind eye to.
Senator Sessions also made clear he possesses independence necessary for the Attorney General. I’ve often heard Senator Sessions ask Executive nominees, including nominees for Attorney General, whether they will have the fortitude to stand up to the President who appointed them. So I asked him the same question. I asked if he’ll be able to say “no” to the President.
And he said: “I understand the importance of your question, I understand the responsibility of the Attorney General and I will do so. You simply have to help the President do things that he might desire in a lawful way and have to be able to say, ‘No,’ both for the country, for the legal system and for the President to avoid situations that are not acceptable. I understand that duty, I have observed it through my years here, and I will fulfill that responsibility.”
Senator Sessions’ commitment to be independent from the President when it’s necessary and his promise to enforce the law is exactly what this nation needs right now. We haven’t seen much of this over the past eight years.
In my view, the Department has been politicized over the past eight years, and that has caused great harm. The leadership of the Department of Justice has undermined our confidence in the rule of law by picking and choosing which laws it will enforce. I’m looking forward to “turning a new page” at the Department under Senator Sessions’ leadership.
It’s desperately needed at this time. Last week in particular showed us how critical it is to have someone leading the Department who is committed to following the law.
Last week, then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates announced that she wouldn’t present arguments in defense of the President’s recent Executive Order, even though she admitted there was a defense to be made. As soon as she did this, Democrats ran to her defense and sang her praises.
But, after Senator Sessions’ hearing, I would’ve expected Democrats to come to the opposite conclusion. During his hearing, they asked Senator Sessions whether he’d enforce a law he didn’t like over and over and over. But last week, Ms. Yates refused to enforce a law because she didn’t like it. And the Democrats lauded her ‘bravery’ and ‘courage.’
Let’s be clear: she didn’t say that she can’t constitutionally defend the President’s Order or offer good faith defenses of its legality in court. Instead, she explained her decision by saying her job is not the same as the job of the Office of Legal Counsel. “Importantly, [OLC] does not address whether any policy choice embodied in an Executive order is wise or just.”
That seems to suggest, of course, that the decision whether or not to defend an Executive Order or statute in court turns on whether the Attorney General believes the law or order is “wise or just.” But, with all respect to Ms. Yates, that wasn’t her job. The Department’s job is to enforce the law. Her obligation was clear. If she couldn’t defend the order in good conscience, the only proper course was to resign.
This unfortunate situation with Ms. Yates highlights precisely why it is important to swiftly move to confirm an Attorney General who will be faithful to the Constitution and uphold the law, regardless of policy preferences.
Ultimately, it comes down to this. There is no one more qualified than Jeff Sessions for this position. He’s served in the Department for 15 years. He’s served as the Attorney General for the state of Alabama. And for 20 years he’s served on the Senate Judiciary Committee which has oversight of the Department. We all know Senator Sessions to be a man of his word. We all know he’ll enforce all the laws on the books, regardless of whether he supported them.
Both Republicans and Democrats know he’ll make an excellent Attorney General and the nation will be served well by his appointment. I urge all my colleagues to vote in favor of his nomination.
I yield the Floor.