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Sen.Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

Pressure Builds for Sessions, Tillerson to Make Clear Their Stance on 'Muslim Ban'

Call for Senate Judiciary Committee to assess Sessions' role in executive order comes as even State Dept. officials denounce 'counter-productive' ban

Andrea Germanos

Did President Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, have a role in creating the widely panned "Muslim ban"? And would he help enforce it?

According to 189 civil and human rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Senate Judiciary Committee must get answers to these questions or they face "a gross dereliction of [their] duty."

Time's running out for sussing out the facts, too, as the committee will vote Tuesday on his nomination, and if it passes, it will head to the full Senate, "where he's expected to ultimately be approved," The Hill writes

In a letter sent Monday to committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the organizations write:

The Senate cannot meaningfully carry out its constitutional obligation, under Article II of the Constitution, to exercise "advice and consent" on the nomination without Senator Sessions providing the Committee with his views on the president's actions and proposals since his inauguration.

Chief among their concerns are Trump's executive order Friday targeting seven predominantly Muslim nations and "his continued pursuit of voter fraud theories," which infringe upon civil liberties and civil rights.

Sessions has spoken in favor of a Muslim ban, though the organizations point out that

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." Because one of President Trump's executive orders excludes refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, Committee members are entitled to know whether Senator Sessions will be involved in implementing this order and whether he believes it to be consistent with his first claim to the committee.

Further, they continue,

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 on some of these issues. None of these actions had taken place at the time of his first confirmation hearing. The Committee must establish a process for assessing these new developments, Senator Sessions' role in formulating them, and his level of expected involvement in carrying any of them out. Failure to do so would be a gross dereliction of your duty.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who sits on the committee, has already come out against Sessions' appointment, saying Sunday: "He's supposed to be the chief law enforcement officer, but he talks like he' going to be Trump's personal attorney." In a statement Monday, he added that Sessions "has failed to provide answers to many of my written questions, including questions regarding his involvement in the drafting of the anti-Muslim executive order that has already disrupted lives and our national security." 

The Senate's top Democrat, Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), has also voiced his opposition to Sessions as well as to Trump's pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, writing Monday on his Facebook page that he "continue[s] to demand that each nominee issue a public statement on his or her views of President Trump's Muslim Ban."

In addition, CNN reports,

Democrats are expected to appear on the floor ahead of Monday's scheduled procedural vote to demand that it be delayed until they can hear from Tillerson on the controversial ban, a senior Senate Democratic aide told CNN.

According to Faiz Shakir, national political director of the ACLU, Sessions' and Tillerson's confirmation votes "are two key leverage points this week that the Senate should employ to demand accountability from the administration" to address the "immoral and unconstitutional" ban.

Their votes, Shakir writes, should be postponed until their involvement with the ban is made clear. He wrote Sunday:

As with Tillerson, Sessions testified in his confirmation hearing that he opposed the Muslim ban. Does he support the order Trump has announced? And does it not contravene a statement he made under oath to the committee?

The opposition to the ban is even swirling within the agency that Tillerson would head, as an internal dissent memo gathering media attention on Monday shows. The New York Times reports:

The speed with which the memo was assembled and the number of signers underscore the degree to which the State Department has become the center of the resistance to Mr. Trump's order.

The draft (pdf) states that the order will not bolster the country's safety but will be counterproductive, as it will foment anti-American sentiment, "sour" relations with the affected nations, and "will have an immediate and clear humanitarian impact."

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer dismissed the dissenting State Department employees, saying Monday afternoon: "I think they should either get with the program or they can go."

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