The Senate will begin confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions and John Kelly this morning, and as Jazz noted earlier, the debate over Donald Trump’s nominee for Attorney General will undoubtedly get contentious. We can expect an unprecedented level of opposition to Sessions by Democrats, albeit almost certainly futile, and even a couple of novelties. Cory Booker put himself in that category deliberately by becoming a witness in the Judiciary Committee hearing today.
And Booker’s office made sure everyone knew it, too:
“I do not take lightly the decision to testify against a Senate colleague,” Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said in a statement. “But the immense powers of the attorney general, combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee is a call to conscience.”
“Sen. Sessions’ decades-long record is concerning in a number of ways, from his opposition to bipartisan criminal justice reform to his views on bipartisan drug policy reform, from his efforts earlier in his career to deny citizens voting rights to his criticism of the Voting Rights Act, from his failure to defend the civil rights of women, minorities, and LGBT Americans to his opposition to commonsense, bipartisan immigration reform,” said Booker, who is African-American.
Booker’s office told Roll Call that the Senate Historical Office could find no precedent for a senator testifying against a sitting colleague at a confirmation hearing.
There’s a reason why Senators do not testify at these hearings, and it has nothing to do with comity. Senators get to “testify” to their hearts’ content in the debate leading up to the confirmation vote. There’s literally no reason to be a witness in the committee hearing unless a Senator has specific and personal witness testimony that goes beyond his or her opinion on the nomination.
Booker’s only been in the Senate for four years and lived New Jersey, while Sessions served as US Attorney in Alabama before coming to the Senate in 1997 — when Booker was 28 years old and still at Yale Law. It seems extremely doubtful that Booker has any direct factual testimony to add to the record. This is just a stunt to give Senate Democrats a temporary addition to their seats in the hearing, and a redundant platform for Booker’s blatherings.
Roll Call also suggests that it might be a platform for something else:
Booker is frequently mentioned as a possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
Democrats are going to lose on Sessions, so perhaps they just want to salvage something else out of the debacle and promote their presidential bench — such as it is. It’s a bad precedent, however, and one that Republicans will use in the future when the tables are turned. We’ll eventually get the other 80 or so Senators “testifying” at confirmation hearings, which will turn them into redundant floor votes for the confirmations themselves, all of which will add precisely bupkis to the proceedings except for self-promotion and ego inflation.
Perhaps one of the members of the Judiciary Committee can ask Booker to explain what happened in the year since he proclaimed himself “honored” to work with Sessions on legislation to give the Congressional Gold Medal to civil-rights activists. Via NTK:
During the ceremony, Booker said of Sessions: “I am humbled to be able to participate here and pay tribute to some of the extraordinary Americans whose footsteps paved the way for me and my generation. I feel blessed and honored to have partnered with Senator Sessions in being the Senate sponsors of this important award.”
“This award is one of the highest civilian honors our nation can bestow, and it is clearly fitting to give this tribute to the courageous foot soldiers,” Booker went on to say of the award itself.
Booker’s “blessed” with a big mouth and not too much foresight in using it.
Update: The circus has come to town:
— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 10, 2017
John Kelly has to be happy that Sessions is getting all the Code Pink attention today.