The Long Game: Why Democrats Turned Sessions' Hearing into a Show Trial

This column by ACRU Policy Board member Hans von Spakovsky was published January 16, 2017 by Conservative Review.

Democrats and their progressive allies tried to turn the confirmation hearings of Sen. Jeff Sessions’, R-Ala. (C, 78%) nomination to be the next attorney general of the United States into a show trial.

There was theatricality aplenty — bizarrely costumed Code Pinkers, marble-mouthed shouters, and lots and lots of feigned outrage (some of it coming from politicians who had previously heaped praise on the nominee).

But the performances are over. And Sessions will be confirmed despite all of the false and malicious claims made against him during the hearings and in the coordinated media attacks that sought to fan the flames.

Democratic senators knew going in that they did not have the votes to stop the nomination. So one has to ask: Why did they carry on for so many grueling hours? Why did they enable their political allies — including some dressed in Ku Klux Klan outfits — to disrupt the hearing process? Why did they pose so many insulting questions about his views and his record? Why did they bring in witnesses like David Cole, legal director of the ACLU, and Cornell Brooks, head of the NAACP, to make scurrilous and unfounded allegations against Sessions?

Brooks used his hearing platform to claim that Sessions had shown “disregard, disrespect, and even disdain for the civil and human rights of racial and ethnic minorities, women, the disabled, and others who suffer from discrimination.” He presented no credible evidence to support that statement. Nor could he.

Sessions’ entire professional career — as Justice Department prosecutor, as U.S. attorney, as attorney general of Alabama, and as U.S. senator — refutes the charge. As William Smith, an African-American who served as Sessions’ Judiciary Committee Counsel testified: Sessions “is an honorable man, who believes in the rule of law, pursues justice under all circumstances and loves his family and friends.”

Thirty years ago, the Left fabricated claims of racism to block Sessions’ appointment to a federal judgeship. Brooks and others gladly dredged them up again for last week’s hearings.

Why does the Left find Sessions so objectionable? Because he actually believes in the rule of law and abiding by the Constitution, and he would apply the laws to everyone equally — a notion that some on the Left reject when it comes to applying those laws to groups whom they favor. They would far prefer judges and attorneys to suspend equal application of the law in favor of applying the law on the basis of identity politics.

Despite Sessions’ almost certain confirmation, progressive politicians felt they had to provide political theater for their supporters and allies, because their supporters want them to oppose everything the Trump administration proposes and everyone the Trump administration wants to bring in. They complied with these wishes by arranging a mini-parade of “witnesses” to denounce Sessions as a racist hostile to women, minorities, gays, and immigrants (as Sen. Cory Booker did to his everlasting shame).

I believe there was a second motivation behind this grotesque display: The Left wanted to make Sessions’ hearing as unpleasant as possible, to send a message to the hundreds of other prospective appointees looking to staff the middle levels of the executive branch.

The vast majority of those positions, while they require presidential appointment, do not require Senate confirmation. And it is at this level where most of the actual work gets done within agencies.

The success of the Trump administration will hinge on the ability of mid-level political appointees to adhere to conservative principles and implement public policy based on those principles: smaller, more efficient government; commitment to the rule of law and the constitutional limits on the power of the federal government; respect for local sovereignty and our federal system; and rejection of the identity politics that threaten to permanently divide us as a nation.

… the most important characteristic the Trump administration should look for in its political appointees is a warrior spirit.

Most of these middle-level appointees will be early in their careers, and virtually all can be expected to hold hopes of advancing to higher posts in this or the next Republican administration.

I suspect that progressive senators want these appointees to look at what happened to Jeff Sessions and realize that if they actually implement conservative policies, they will get the same kind of unwarranted, unfair, and malicious criticism and controversy: disparaging attacks in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and MSNBC; hour after hour of loaded, demeaning questioning in oversight hearings, and every prospect of having any potential future nomination to higher posts getting stalled or torpedoed.

The progressive misbehavior on exhibit at the Sessions confirmation hearing aimed to change the behavior of other political appointees. Progressives want to make them reluctant to implement conservative policies lest it damage their future careers. I know, because I saw it happen inside the Bush administration when I worked in the Justice Department.

That is why, in addition to professional qualifications, the most important characteristic the Trump administration should look for in its political appointees is a warrior spirit. They need individuals who are willing to do the right thing no matter what the media say, no matter what the “accepted wisdom” of D.C./NYC liberal elite may be, and no matter how vicious their social media cabal may attack them.

In other words, the political appointees selected by the new administration need the same defiant, relentless, and devil-may-care attitude as their ultimate boss, Donald J. Trump.