Jeff Sessions and his history on race are causing uncertainty among fellow lawmakers in the days before the Alabama Senator’s confirmation hearing scheduled for next week.
Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, told POLITICO there are “elements” of Sessions’ background that “raise questions” about supposed racial insensitivities — suggesting Sessions’ past comments on race will play a significant role in his confirmation hearings.
Durbin stopped short of calling Sessions racist outright, though.
“I would say there certainly are elements in his background that raise questions,” Durbin said. “He said several times, point-blank, that this was not an issue as far as he was concerned. He believed that everybody deserved fair treatment.”
Sessions’ supporters, however, are quick to push back on accusations of racial insensitivity, enlisting prominent black leaders to vouch for the Alabama senator’s character. They point to his career as a federal prosecutor, where Sessions has gone after Ku Klux Klan members.
This week, Perry County Commissioner Albert Turner Jr. endorsed Sessions, who had prosecuted Turner’s parents for voter fraud in a case that led to the allegations that torpedoed his confirmation to the federal judiciary in 1986.
“My differences in policy and ideology with him do not translate to personal malice,” Turner said in a statement. “He is not a racist. As I have said before, at no time then or now has Jeff Sessions said anything derogatory about my family. He was a prosecutor at the federal level with a job to do.”
Durbin would not say whether he would oppose Sessions as Donald Trump’s attorney general, but did outline several differences they have had on issues such as immigration and criminal justice reform.
“There were no breakthroughs in terms of his positions by Sen. Sessions,” Durbin said. “He and I are pretty familiar with one another’s positions.”