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Congressional Progressive Caucus Leadership Demands a Second Hearing for Sessions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), and First Vice Chair Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) sent a letter today to Chairman Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer urging them to conduct a second hearing for Attorney General nominee Senator Sessions in light of President Trump’s recent executive order which bars entry into the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries. 

·        In his first hearing, Sen. Sessions said, “I have no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims as a religious group should be denied admission to the United States.” 

·        Yet, sources claim he was involved in the creation of the executive order, which also establishes a religious test that grants priority to Christian and other religious minorities over Muslims. 

·        CPC leaders believe the Senate and the American public need a second hearing for Sen. Sessions to ask questions about his potential involvement in this executive order and how or if he plans to implement this order as U.S. Attorney General. 

·        CPC leaders also expressed legal and constitutional concern over other executive-branch proposals that Sessions would be tasked with implementing, such as federal coercion of sanctuary cities and the reinstatement of waterboarding, a form of torture. 

The text of the letter is below and attached.


January 30, 2017

The Honorable Charles Grassley

Chairman

Senate Committee on the Judiciary

224 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC  20510

 

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein

Ranking Member

Senate Committee on the Judiciary

152 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC  20510

As leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, we urgently write to ask you to cancel the pending committee vote on the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General tomorrow, Tuesday, January 31st, and instead request Senator Sessions to reappear as a witness in a new committee hearing.

Senator Sessions was recently reported to be deeply involved in the debate and development of President Trump’s executive orders signed over the past week, including one that excludes refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries—a measure that Senator Sessions seemed to explicitly disavow under previous Senate questioning.  In light of this, the committee must vigorously probe Senator Sessions in a second hearing to ascertain his role in their development and his plans to implement and execute them.

In his first hearing, Senator Sessions testified, “I have no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims as a religious group should be denied admission to the United States.” Yet this is precisely the effect of President Trump’s executive order, signed on January 27th. The order temporarily bars all entry from seven Muslim-majority countries, and established a religious test for refugees that grants Christians and other religious minorities priority over Muslims. Given the grave constitutional concerns raised by the order and the ensuing chaos for family members stranded across the world and detained in U.S. airports, we believe it is essential to ask Senator Sessions about his intention to implement this order, what role he may have played in designing it, and whether he believes it to be consistent with his first claim to the committee.

President Trump has also announced that he intends to pursue a “major investigation” into voter fraud during the 2016 presidential election, falsely claiming that 3-5 million votes were cast illegally in favor of the Democratic presidential candidate. Study after study has shown that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent, and a comprehensive review only found 31 incidents out of 1 billion ballots cast. President Trump’s insistence on making this allegation is already being used as a pretext for laws that make it more difficult for people of color, young adults, people with disabilities, and low-income people to vote. Senator Sessions must elaborate on President Trump’s most recent charges of voter fraud and clarify how such an investigation and any resulting policy responses will not make it more difficult for Americans to vote.

In addition to his Muslim exclusion order and his continued pursuit of voter-fraud conspiracy theories, the president has issued orders or is reported to be considering proposals in recent days which:

•  Direct drastic changes to the relationship between the federal government and the states, including potentially unconstitutional measures that would punish state and local governments for their protection of undocumented residents and would coerce them into carrying out federal immigration enforcement.

•  Potentially cut the annual budget of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice by $58 million, or roughly one-third.

•  Repeal the Affordable Care Act, thereby jeopardizing the protections afforded by the law to persons with disabilities, women, racial minorities, LGBT persons, and lower- and middle-income Americans.

•  Reexamine and reauthorize the use of torture, in flagrant violation of federal and international law, while considering the reopening of the notorious network of Bush-era CIA “black sites,” which were used to secretly transfer and torture suspects. Given President Trump’s recent and very public willingness to entertain the efficacy of waterboarding, Senator Sessions must account for his prior comments to the committee that it is “absolutely improper and illegal to use waterboarding or any other form of torture by the United States,” and that such a prohibition “cannot be unilaterally altered by the executive branch.” 

The Committee must hold a second hearing with Senator Sessions not only because these actions and proposals severely threaten civil liberties and civil rights, but also because several media reports have described Senator Sessions—even while waiting for the committee to vote on his nomination—as an influential advisor to the Trump administration. None of these actions had yet occurred at the time of his first confirmation hearing, and must now be considered with utmost seriousness in a second hearing.

The Senate cannot meaningfully carry out its constitutional obligation under Article II of the Constitution to exercise “advice and consent” on the nomination without full awareness of Senator Sessions’ views on, and involvement in, the president’s initiatives since his inauguration. Going forward with a committee vote on the nomination without a second hearing would be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional responsibility.

There is precedent for holding a second hearing on a nominee for a top position at the Department of Justice when the Judiciary Committee receives consequential new information that it must consider at an open hearing with the nominee. In October 2005, Chairman Arlen Specter scheduled a second hearing on the nomination of Timothy Flanigan to be Deputy Attorney General, after the committee received important information that had not been available at the time of the first hearing. Yet, the best precedent for calling on Senator Sessions to testify once again is Mr. Sessions himself. In March 1986, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to consider his nomination for a judgeship. The Committee then re-called him in May 1986 to demand answers to serious questions that had been subsequently raised. Once again, we are in a similar situation where Senator Sessions should be asked to provide answers to new and serious questions that have arisen since his last confirmation hearing.

As progressive members of Congress who have been inundated with deep concerns from our constituents on this matter, we strongly urge you to cancel the Committee vote scheduled for next Tuesday, hold a second hearing with Senator Sessions, and make clear that the Committee and the Senate will not move forward with the nomination until after a second hearing. We look forward to your thoughts on this exceedingly urgent issue.

Sincerely,

Raúl Grijalva

Member of Congress

 

Keith Ellison

Member of Congress

 

Mark Pocan

Member of Congress

 The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) is the largest caucus within the House Democratic Caucus, with over 70 members standing up for progressive ideals in Washington and throughout the country. Since 1991, the CPC has advocated for progressive policies that prioritize working Americans over corporate interests, fight economic and social inequality, and promote civil liberties. The CPC champions progressive policy solutions like comprehensive immigration reform, a $15 national minimum wage, fair trade, gun violence reform, debt-free college, and making the federal government a Model Employer.

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CPC Letter Concerning Senator Sessions (01/31/1709:40 AMET )