Evaluation of Senate Confirmation Hearings

By YOUSUF ALI, Opinions Editor

Last week, several of the president-elect’s nominees testified before Congress and answered questioning from members of the relevant committees. Because of the president-elect’s blatant incompetence and lack of substantial policy proposals, it is safe to assume that his cabinet will play a large role in the formation of the next administration’s cabinet. This makes the answers given to Congress by the nominees all the more important for getting a glimpse into the future direction of our country. Those who were subject to questioning last week included Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., for Attorney General, former CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, retired Gen. James Mattis for Secretary of Defense, and Dr. Ben Carson, for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  Given that Dr. Carson has previously admitted to his manifest incompetence for a cabinet position, I see no point in devoting more words to explaining why he is a terrible pick. As for Gen. Mattis, his military experience and his acknowledgment of the nature of the Russian threat somewhat reassure me about him being selected. The confirmation hearings that leave me with the most concern are those of Sen. Jeff Sessions and Mr. Rex Tillerson.

Sessions underwent several hours of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding his nomination to lead the Department of Justice. This was not the first time that Sessions sat before the committee. In 1986, the committee voted to reject Session’s nomination for a Federal judgeship on the basis of what the late Senator Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., referred to as “a throwback to a shameful era” of racism. This time around, Sessions was far more articulate in defending his record, but his testimony had several problematic aspects.

Sessions was introduced by Sen. Suzanne Collins, R-Minn., by giving examples in which he pursued actions against the Ku Klux Klan and supported desegregation in the South. Indeed, it is true that that Sessions played an instrumental role in prosecuting KKK members and bankrupting the group in Alabama as stated by the the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC); however, as the SPLC also notes, simply going after the KKK is hardly sufficient qualification for becoming the Attorney General. Anyone who holds this position must be trusted in defending the rights of all, and in this regard, Sessions falls alarmingly short.

Sessions’ record has showed that he opposes the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable people and the the senator’s hearing offered little assurance that he would be much better as Attorney General. When confronted by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., about his stance regarding Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, Sessions stated that he opposed a categorical ban on Muslims but did not rule out a more specific religious test in which one inquired about potentially radical beliefs. At first glance, this seems fairly innocuous; however he did not speak of applying such a test to other religious groups making such a proposal discriminatory. Furthermore, when he was asked about protecting DREAMers (undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children), he had no better response than saying that he would enforce the law. These, amongst other issues, are why I cannot support Sessions becoming the Attorney General.

In addition to Sessions, Mr. Rex Tillerson also sat in hearings before Congress. While Rex Tillerson has taken the positive sets of severing his business ties (unlike his potential boss) before his hearing, his hearing raises several issues with his potential. While Tillerson did accept the possibility of a Russian threat, he refused to call out the human rights abuses and war crimes by Russia, Saudi Arabia and the Phillipines when pressed by Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Furthermore, many times he refused to answer questions about potential conflicts of interests relating to ExxonMobil under the pretext that he no longer works with the company when questioned by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. These issues raise serious questions about Mr. Tillerson’s eligibility to be Secretary of State.

Since Donald Trump won last year’s election, countless people in this country, and throughout the world, have been living in trepidation regarding his impending presidency. Most were not particularly reassured by his cabinet nominees. While not all have been questioned, those who have been so far seem to confirm many of those fears.

Many of these nominees have views directly opposing their department’s stated missions. For example, Sessions has opposed key civil rights legislation and has provided support to many of Trump’s worst proposals. Also, Mr. Tillerson has not been clear enough about how he would deal with potential conflict of interests related to his past dealing with conflicts of interest. If these are the people who will be advising the president-elect, the country is in for a rough four years.

Addendum: Since drafting this article, the president-elect has attacked the veteran Civil Rights activist and congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., for questioning his legitimacy. For those who are unfamiliar, Congressman Lewis is the only living speaker at Martin Luther King Jr’s famous March on Washington. If Session’s record was not enough to show how much danger civil rights are in during the president-elect’s administration, this should leave no doubt about the matter.