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.

Not altogether clear what Tillerson’s positions will end up being if confirmed, except re: smiling, on which he shares a clear stance with his boss:

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Something I missed way earlier, worth noting: facing questioning from Sen. Bob Menendez (D), Tillerson claimed that he had not talked about Russia with Trump.

“The president-elect and I have not had the opportunity to discuss this specific issue or this specific area” was the phrasing he chose, adding that they had spoken “in a broad construct” but not in specific terms.

“That’s pretty amazing,” Menendez responded.

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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.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked whether Tillerson would commit to continuing programs to promote women’s rights around the world, noting that the transition team’s December request for information on State Dept. employees working on these projects “sends a chilling message.”

Tillerson says yes, that there is “study after study” showing the economic impact of empowering women.

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The Republican talking point that America is “less respected” after Obama’s term has been coming up quite a bit. This is insane, considering the total dingbat that came before Obama who was so hated that people had to literally say they were from Canada when traveling abroad—and I dunno, global public opinion of Donald Trump seems not so great either.

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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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Another protestor has been removed from the Tillerson hearing. “Please don’t put Exxon in charge of the State Department! Protect our children and grandchildren!”

And a few minutes later, another (all have been women so far): “In our home state of Texas, people are resisting dated pipelines! Whether or not you become Secretary of State, oil is dead! Senators, be brave! Reject this man! Protect the vulnerable!”

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And some good points on Tillerson’s view of economic sanctions, which he’s being questioned about now:

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An almost emotional-seeming Sen. Marco Rubio went in very, very hard. As the Washington Post has pointed out, Rubio’s tough line on Tillerson, which appears to be holding, might lead other Republicans away from supporting the nominee.

Rubio pressed Tillerson as to whether he believes reports that Russia meddled in the U.S. election (Tillerson agreed this is likely), and whether he believes that Putin knew about those attacks. “I think that’s a fair assumption,” Tillerson eventually conceded, after hedging that cyber attacks were a threat from a lot of nations.

Throughout their exchange, Rubio referred to Tillerson’s answers as “troubling” and “discouraging.” He asked if Tillerson would advise PEOTUS to repeal Obama’s recent executive orders to sanction Russia for the cyberattacks; Tillerson demurred, saying he hasn’t had classified briefings yet and doesn’t know enough to give a definitive answer.

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“Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?” Rubio asked.

“I would not use that term,” Tillerson replied.

“In Aleppo, Putin’s military has targeted schools, markets...thousands of civilians,” Rubio fired back, noting the 1999 bombing campaign in Chechnya that killed 300,000 civilians.

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“Those are very very serious charges to make, and I would want to have much more information before making a decision,” Tillerson maintained.

“It should not be hard to say that Vladimir Putin’s military has conducted war crimes in Aleppo,” Rubio said.

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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Back in the Tillerson hearing -

Sen. Cardin asked Tillerson about Sergei Magnitsky’s murder, and asks if Tillerson will support the Magnitsky law, which allows Congress to work to sanction Russia. Tillerson says yes, also agrees that Russia should not have invaded Crimea.

Here’s some background on the Magnitsky murder.

Cardin asks Tillerson to back up his subtle dig that the current administration essentially created the current problem with Russia by not asserting itself enough on the world stage. “What would you have done to prevent Russia from doing what it did?” Cardin asked, referring to Putin’s recent territory grabs in Crimea.  

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“In terms of the taking of Crimea, my understanding is it caught a lot of people by surprise,” Tillerson replied, says that U.S. should have taken a more robust military response.

Cardin notes that Tillerson’s views on NATO “are not exactly consistent with Trump’s,” which he says he finds reassuring.

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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“While Russia seeks respect and relevance on the global stage, its recent activities have disregarded American interests,” Tillerson testified. “Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies, and that Russia must be held to account for its actions.”

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A few minutes after stressing the importance of the U.S.’s support of Israel, Tillerson decries China’s actions in the South China Sea as an illegal territory grab that violates international norms. He also acknowledged, however, that China can be an ally. 

“Supporting human rights is a key component” in U.S. policy, Tillerson asserted.

Apropos of nothing, I feel like the Boy Scouts of America have been mentioned like 9 times?

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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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A protestor just interrupted Tillerson’s opening remarks and was removed. “Rex Tillerson, I reject you! My home was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy!”

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Back at the Tillerson hearing, the introductory remarks take on an aggressive tone.

“Having a view from the C-suite at Exxon is not at all the same as having a view from the Seventh Floor,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), ranking member of the committee, tells Tillerson.

“As you may know, over the course of my tenure in the House and Senate, I’ve championed the cause of human rights,” Cardin says. “We, the United States, were victims of a cyberattack on our democratic process,” and “Russia may well have information about Mr. Trump and they may use that to compromise the presidency.”

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“I was disappointed that in your prepared opening remarks,” Cardin said, there was “no mention of Russia’s cyberattack.”

Cardin notes “deep concerns” amongst his colleagues about Tillerson’s relationship with Russia, and notes that he’d like to ask Tillerson if he supports additional sanctions against Russia.

“Speaking up for democracy and freedom of speech must be at the forefront of American foreign policy.”

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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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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who just warmly introduced Rex Tillerson, is a consultant for Exxon. This was obviously not mentioned!

It’s also worth noting that Foreign Relations Committee Chair Sen. Bob Corker, who is speaking now about national security, is advising the Trump transition team. Trump, according to Corker, answers his cell phone without checking who’s calling.

Corker was just interrupted by protesters.

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Former Dem. Senator Sam Nunn, a nuclear proliferation expert, spoke in support of Tillerson. “It is dangerous to the United States and Russia and the world to have no dialogue on reducing nuclear risk,” he said.

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Oh good, we get to hear Ted Cruz speak again today. Rex is a “proud Texas Longhorn,” he says, with the confidence of a guy who knows a thing or two about sport games.

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Hello and welcome! I’m so happy and excited to be here, listening to not one but two ethically compromised old white men! First up is billionaire Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, whose hearing, scheduled for 9 AM, should begin any minute now. You can watch along here.

Tillerson, who’s received a rare Order of Friendship award from Russia and has had a friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin, was never going to get off with an easy hearing; even Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, particularly Marco Rubio, have been anticipated to give him a rough ride. It’s going to be interesting to see how the committee responds to reports last night that Russia may have damaging “kompromat” on our President-Elect. What a world!

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