So Much Bad at Once: It's Our Senate Confirmation Hearings Liveblog 

Image via AP Photo.

What a day! What a marvelous day! Republicans initially scheduled five hearings for one day—this day—despite the notable absence of standard ethics paperwork, but eventually bowed to pressure and delayed those of Betsy DeVos and Mike Pompeo. Now there are three, which is still a lot to pay attention to at once! I wonder why Republican leadership planned it that way?

We’ll be watching the second round of Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing, which should include historic testimony from Senate colleague Cory Booker along with Rep. John Lewis and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. We’ll also be watching Rex Tillerson’s hearing for Secretary of State, which is, uh, timely, and peek in on Elaine Chao’s hearing for Transportation Secretary.

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Please join us in this day of nonstop fun and laughs.

Richmond is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and he’s saying that they oppose Sessions’ appointment. “Senator Sessions has advanced an agenda that will do great harm to African American communities.” Says he’s demonstrated a “total disregard” to the equal application of the law as it applies to black Americans, and points out he opposed criminal justice reform. “Jeff Sessions cannot be relied upon to enforce the voting rights act.” Says he’s proven himself “unfit to serve in the role of attorney general.” Closes by saying he wouldn’t have the opportunity to testify if it weren’t for men like John Lewis, who was ‘beaten within an inch of his life” fighting for civil rights. Speaks of the legacy of beating, torture, and rape of civil rights activists.

Now he’s addressing the Senators. “You all must face a choice. Be courageous or be complicit. If you vote to confirm Senator Sessions, you take ownership of everything he may do or not do in office.”

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A protester against Guantanamo just interrupted Cedric Richmond, a black Democratic Senator with a strong human rights record, so that’s pretty stupid.

Richmond says that Grassley forcing John Lewis to testify very late is “beyond the pale” and disrespectful to his civil rights records, “the equivalent of being sent to the back of the bus.”

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In particularly powerful testimony against Jeff Sessions, John Lewis is testifying about his historic participation in the Selma to Mongtomery marches.

“We’ve come a distance. we’ve made progress. but we’re not there yet. there are forces that would take us back to another place. But we don’t want to go back, we don’t want to go forward.”

He’s also taking aim at all the speakers who are insisting that Sessions has been personally friendly to them and is thus not prejudiced: “It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you. We need someone who’s gonna stand up, speak up and speak out for the people that need help, for people who have been discriminated against.”

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Willie Huntley speaking for Sessions: “At no point in the time that I’ve known Jeff Sessions has he demonstrated any racial insensitivity.” And now here comes civil rights hero John Lewis to fuck that right up.

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Booker is speaking against Sessions’s record: “With all that is at stake in our nation now... I pray that my colleagues will join me in opposing this nomination.” The Congressional Black Caucus sits behind him, and Rep. John Lewis, who will speak later, sits beside him. Former US Attorney Willie Huntley is speaking now.

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Corey Booker is deeeestroyyyiiinnnnng Jeff Sessions, saying he’s breaking with longstanding tradition (Senators don’t usually testify against each other) because Sessions’ record is so poor.

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Senator Markey asks Tillerson if he supports sanctions against Russia even if it hurts ExxonMobil. “There will be no space between me and the President in those decisions,” Tillerson replies.

He followed up by asking Tillerson if he would recuse himself for his entire tenure as Secretary of State, beyond the statutory recusal period, from representing Exxon. Tillerson evaded the question, saying he would seek the advice of the ethics committee to determine whether or not he should recuse himself from ExxonMobil-related decisions beyond the statutory recusal period of one year. Markey says that’s not good enough given ExxonMobil’s influence across the world.

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Tim Kaine and Tillerson had a relatively testy exchange:

Kaine began his questions by asking Tillerson about financial connections between Trump, his family and organization and Russia. Tillerson replied that he had “no knowledge.” Kaine rephrased the question, replacing Russia with other countries, including China. Tillerson replied again that he had no knowledge. Kaine continued, “No way of knowing how actions proposed by President Trump regarding those countries or other would affect his personal or family financial interest.” Tillerson, “I have no knowledge.”

Kaine pressed him on how the citizens and Congress would be able to fairly judge Trump’s foreign policy decisions without that knowledge. Tillerson replied that the answer to the question was up to other people. Kaine continued to ask about Trump’s potential financial conflicts with other countries and its potential impact on Tillerson’s ability to negotiate with leaders of other countries. Tillerson said that if he had no knowledge of those conflicts, then it would not impede his ability to negotiate.

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The two then had a back and forth about allegations that Exxon had funded scientists who actively sought to promote anti-climate change information even though the company understood the link between global warming and the burning of fossil fuels. Tillerson declined to answer and suggested that Kaine ask Exxon. Kaine replied, “Are you refusing to answer my question or do you lack the knowledge to answer my question. Tillerson replied, “A little of both.” Kaine followed-up by asking if Tillerson had signed a confidentiality agreement preventing him from answering that question. Tillerson said he didn’t think so but would have his counsel double check.

The Sessions hearing is fun again: Senator Whitehouse is mentioning that Sessions has been enthusiastically endorsed by Neo Nazis, including chief Nazi troll website the Daily Stormer. Cornell Brooks of the NAACP says Sessions hasn’t “sufficiently described a Department of Justice fully committed to enforcing the nation’s civil rights laws... He’s not responsible for who endorses him, but he is in fact responsible for who he endorses.”

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The back-and-forth between Sessions’ supporters and his detractors is pretty fun to witness. Here’s David Cole from the ACLU, saying his record “raises serious questions” about his fitness to be an AG “for all the American people.” The ACLU almost never testifies at these hearings. Cole says Sessions has shown “blindness or outright hostility” towards the concerns of the groups of people whose rights he’d now protect as AG: black voters, for example. Points out he’s called Islam “a toxic ideology” and previously defended both Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and his pussy-grabbing comments. He’s also voted against extending the hate crimes law to crimes against women or LGBT people saying he wasn’t sure LGBT people “face that kind of discrimination, I just don’t see it.”

Cole concluded by saying that he’s not sure any of the Senators would hire as an intern for their offices someone who had as many “questions on their resume” as Sessions does.

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At the Sessions hearing, Chuck Canterbury from the National Fraternal Order of Police says Sessions is good: “I can say without reservation that i have never testified with more enthusiasm... than I do for Senator Jeff Sessions.”

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This is an interesting back-to-back at the Sessions hearing. First, Jayann Sepich testified in favor of him. Her daughter Katie was raped and murdered in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 2003 — she has pushed for the enactment of a law requiring that DNA samples be taken from anyone arrested for a felony and put into a database. She says Sessions has taken the time to understand forensic DNA testing “in a truly non-partisan manner.”

Next, Cornell Brooks, president of the NAACP, testified that the organization has “deep concerns” about Sessions’ appointment. “The NAACP firmly believes that Senator Sessions is unfit to serve as attorney general.” He says his record “reveals a consistent disregard for civil and human rights of vulnerable populations,” from people of color to women to LGBT people to the disabled. He points out that he’s repeatedly voted against the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and says that and his anti-VAWA vote demonstrate a “disturbing” lack of concern about crimes against minorities and women. He’s also highlighting Sessions’ opposition to the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and to gun control measures, and his “record of vote-suppressing prosecutions” and his support for voter ID laws.

He’s asking us to imagine Sessions leading prosecutions in cases like Freddie Grey or Michael Brown. “Imagining that, we must face the fact that Senator Sessions should not be our Attorney General.”

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At the Sessions hearing, the next speaker is Amita Swadhin, a survivor of childhood sexual assault at the hands of her father. She’s urging the committee not to confirm Sessions, saying he has “minimized” sexual assault, as when he said in October that Trump’s “grab her by the pussy” remarks didn’t constitute sexual assault. Swadhin is also criticizing Sessions voting against the expanded version of VAWA in 2013. And she’s listing a long list of anti-sexual violence groups who have opposed his nomination. That was pretty great.

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Oscar Vasquez, who came here as an undocumented child and became a U.S. Army sergeant, talks about the importance of the DREAM Act and DACA, which Sessions has called “constitutionally questionable.”

Next, Peter Kirsanow, who previously served on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, says Sessions’ record on civil rights has been “distorted” and that the facts “emphatically show” he’s cosponsored bills to protect voting rights and honor civil rights leaders.

Kirsanow is a Republican, and is African American. He has opposed affirmative action. From Mother Jones:

According to the Huffington Post, when the late Justice Antonin Scalia famously suggested that black college students should seek “less-advanced” or “slower-track” institutions, he was referring to a brief by Kirsanow.

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Here’s former attorney general Michael Mukasey. “The person you saw and heard yesterday is very much the person I came to know beginning in 2007, when I first appeared before this committee: principled, intelligent, knowledgeable, thorough, modest” and committee to the rule of law. He’s a fan! And that is his whole testimony.

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Day two of the Sessions confirmation hearing has begun. Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is saying he’s disturbed that the hearings are happening before ethics and financial disclosures are completed for most of these people. “It’s not the Senate’s fault that the Trump administration was not prepared and it did not have its nominees vetted, in place.” He’s calling it an “unfortunate new precedent” in the Senate, as is the “stacking” of multiple hearings on the same day.

He also says there is “legitimate concern based on the hectoring in the right-wing groups for a general housecleaning of career staffs and for a particular targeting of named career staff.” He’s criticizing the Heritage Foundation for likening longtime staff to “filth” needing to be washed out of the Aegean Stables, which he says is an improper comparison. He also is saying that Sessions believes that a “secular attorney general” is inferior to a religious one, which does sound like something Jeff Sessions would say.

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Good morning, buds. Is this queasy feeling excitement? Fear? Are my intestines trying to escape my body cavity and flee to some country with a stable transfer of power and socialized healthcare?

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