Sen. Warner’s opposition to AG nominee Jeff Sessions moves to Senate floor

mark warnerSen. Mark Warner spoke out today against the nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to be the next Attorney General of the United States. A vote on the nomination is expected to occur Wednesday night.

In his speech on the Senate floor, Warner cited Sen. Sessions’ long record of opposing bipartisan, commonsense policies relating to voting rights, anti-discrimination, domestic violence, and criminal justice reform. Warner also noted he had concerns about Sen. Sessions’ independence from the President, which would impact his ability to effectively carry out his responsibilities as Attorney General.

Sen. Warner voted against the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be the next Secretary of Education and has previously announced he will vote against Health & Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Price, and Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin.

 

Warner statement on Sessions nomination

Mr. President, I also rise today to voice my concerns about Senator Jeff Sessions’ nomination to serve as U.S. Attorney General. While I respect Senator Sessions’ decision to spend his career in public service, I cannot and will not support his nomination.

I also rise to raise the concerns of thousands of my constituents who have contacted me about Senator Sessions.

These Virginians worry about what his confirmation would mean for the rights of all Virginians and all Americans.

Senator Sessions’ long record of opposing bipartisan, commonsense policies relating to voting rights, anti-discrimination, domestic violence, and criminal justice reform leads me to conclude that he is not the right person to serve as Attorney General.

I’d like to take a couple of minutes, and I know I have my friend the Senator from Minnesota coming after me, to talk about five areas of concern that I have with his nomination.

First, voting rights.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder to gut a key section of the Voting Rights Act. Senator Sessions applauded that decision, which has already eroded voter access and protection in several states once covered by the previous provisions in the Voting Rights Act. Those states include the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Moreover, he has failed to support important legislation that would restore those protections.

That bipartisan legislation, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, was introduced last Congress and would serve to once again protect our nation’s hard-fought equal access to the ballot.

I was proud to cosponsor this bill and remain committed to working with my colleagues to put a fair process in place that ensures our elections are open to all.

Senator Sessions unfortunately opposes this legislation.

Second area is non-discrimination.

I also have concerns about Senator Sessions’ record on a broad range of anti-discrimination policies.

He was one of only four Senators to oppose an amendment in the Judiciary Committee that would have reaffirmed the principle that the United States does not discriminate against immigrants on the basis of religion. An issue that unfortunately has re-risen most recently by the President’s actions.

He has opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which codifies protections for LGBTQ Americans, and denied the reality that too many of our LGBTQ neighbors still face down discrimination and hatred every day.

While nearly two thirds of the Senate voted for the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, Senator Sessions stated that: “I am not sure that women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination. I just don’t see it.”

From opposing the DREAM Act, to opposing the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell—Senator Sessions’ views are well outside of the mainstream.

Third area is violence against women.

In 2013, Senator Sessions voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. This landmark legislation, originally drafted in 1994, provides crucial protections and resources for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women.

The 2013 reauthorization bill updated those programs within the Department of Justice and extended resources and protections to additional populations, such as those in same-sex relationships.

That bill passed with the support of a large bipartisan majority in the Senate, including a majority of the Republican caucus.

However, Senator Sessions opposed the entire bill due to concerns about one provision in the legislation related to domestic violence against Indians on tribal lands. We in the Senate have all, on occasion, been faced with legislation that contains one or more provisions we have concerns about, or would not have included in the legislation.

Yet my colleagues on both sides of the aisle can attest that we very often strike compromises to get important legislation over the finish line. Oftentimes the sign of a good bill is often when not one of us gets 100 percent of what we may have wanted.

Opposing a much broader, commonsense, and bipartisan bill meant to reduce violence and protect domestic violence victims calls into question Senator Sessions’ commitment to administering these important programs at the Department of Justice.

The fourth area is sentencing reform.

There is broad, bipartisan recognition in the Senate that our broken criminal justice system is badly in need of reform. Likewise, there is bipartisan support for updating outdated statutes that tie judges’ hands and often force them to hand down overly-punitive mandatory minimum sentences.

Yet, last year Senator Sessions again was one of only five Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to vote against bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation of which I’m a proud cosponsor: the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.

There is overwhelming support, both in this body and among the American public, for reforming a broken justice system, and giving thousands of Americans a second chance to be productive members of society. I believe that Senator Sessions’ views on criminal justice are at odds with what the American people want, and at odds with the basic principles of fairness and equality under law that are supposed to be a hallmark of our nation’s justice system.

Finally, on the question on independence.

I’m concerned that Senator Sessions won’t be sufficiently independent to execute the responsibilities of Attorney General effectively. Doing this job the way our Founding Fathers intended requires a certain level of impartiality to fully and independently enforce our laws and protect the rights of the disenfranchised.

Senator Sessions has said before that achieving this level of neutrality means saying “no” to the President sometimes. This is one area where I agree with my colleague and want very much to take him at his word.

However, given his vocal, partisan support for President Trump and his refusal to commit in his confirmation hearings to fully enforce certain laws, I am not convinced that Senator Sessions is fully prepared to faithfully execute this new set of responsibilities with the amount of independence that the job demands.

Again, I stress that the main duties of serving as Attorney General include enforcing our nation’s laws and, by doing so, protecting the civil rights of all Americans. That is the most basic tenant of being Attorney General. Given Senator Sessions’ long record of opposing many of these fundamental laws that protect civil rights and equality for all, I have grave concerns about him fulfilling and taking this position.

For these reasons, I am unable to support Senator Sessions’ nomination to be Attorney General, and I encourage my colleagues to take these concerns under consideration as we move forward to a final vote on this nomination.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.