Ending two days of at times pointed debate, the U.S. Senate voted 52 to 47 to approve Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as the next Attorney General, as Republicans brushed off objections from Democrats and moved on to President Trump’s choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA).
“This is a guy who fought for Republican principles long before Alabama became a Red State,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“He stood up to the George Wallace dynasty as a young man,” as McConnell pushed back against Democratic attacks on the record of Sessions.
The only Senator to break ranks was Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, who voted for Sessions.
Sessions was on the Senate floor; he voted “Present,” as the chamber broke into applause when the vote was over.
“Senator Sessions has served with us for twenty years,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). “Every member of this body knows him to be a man of integrity.”
But that friendship in the Senate wasn’t enough for all.
“I like Jeff Sessions,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), but he said Sessions was not the right choice.
“We need an attorney general to stand up to the president and explain the Constitution to him,” Sanders said. “Jeff Sessions is not that person.”
“Jeff Sessions’s record is not that of a man who will champion ‘liberty and justice for all,'” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
The vote on Sessions came after the two parties sparred through the day over whether Republicans were right to have used Senate rules on Tuesday night to stop Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) from speaking about Sessions, as the GOP said she had impugned the character of her colleague repeatedly.
But when Majority Leader McConnell used Senate Rule XIX to stop Warren in debate, he quoted offending language that was actually from a letter written in 1986 by Coretta Scott King, opposing the nomination of Sessions for a federal judgeship.
“Mrs. King’s words about Sessions should be heard,” said Warren, as several other Democrats went to the Senate floor and read the King letter, exactly as Warren did.
But this time, Republicans did not stand up to object.
In the end, it didn’t matter, as Democrats are simply outnumbered in the Senate, and have made little headway in getting GOP Senators to break ranks.
Democrats had done all they could to slow down proceedings on various Trump Cabinet nominees in recent days, forcing all night sessions of the Senate on both Monday and Tuesday nights – but it changed little, as Republicans have the votes to approve the President’s Cabinet picks.
After his confirmation, Sessions addressed his colleagues for one last time, talking about the disappointment of his defeat in 1986 for a federal judgeship, and how offended he was when Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) labeled him a “disgrace” in the Senate Judiciary Committee debate.
Sessions then won a seat in the Senate, and was put on that Judiciary panel, becoming a colleague of Kennedy, and others who opposed him.
“I got along pretty well with Senator Kennedy,” Sessions said, recounting how the Massachusetts liberal asked the Alabama conservative to join with him on a prison reform initiative.
“It was a moment of reconciliation,” Sessions said of Kennedy’s offer. “It meant a lot to me.”
Next up for the Senate will be a vote on Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), the President’s pick for Health and Human Services Secretary, as Democrats immediately attacked Price over stock trades he made while a member of Congress, and accused him of leading a GOP drive to undermine both Medicare and the Obama health law.
“The debate on Congressman Price’s nomination, in my view, is a referendum on the future of health care in America,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who made no bones about his opposition during a floor speech on Wednesday night.
But like the vote on Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, Republicans seem to have enough votes to get Price approved in the Senate.
If Democrats force an extended debate, that vote would not take place until around 2 am on Friday morning, the next step for Republicans in getting the Trump Cabinet in place.