As the first high-profile confirmation hearing of the Trump administration, Jeff Sessions’ first day before Congress this week made clear that at least during the interview phase of his new job, Sessions is willing to play the part of a man who will take his office more seriously than his personal prejudices. But after a promising stretch of conversation around 3:25 p.m. on Tuesday, during which marijuana was finally mentioned—Sessions implied that his views as a senator wouldn’t cause him to waste limited Justice Department funds fulfilling his drug war vendettas—something else became clear, too.
After three solid minutes of verbally fellating Sessions’ commitment to law enforcement, Orrin Hatch attempted to prove that accusations of racial bias against Sessions were unfounded because of the long list of Police and Sheriff organizations that support him. “Would all these groups support him if he were biased? Of course they wouldn’t!” said Hatch, proving that the Republican party is perfectly happy to break with reality, as well as fact. In the American reality, when the only organizations that come out in favor of a candidate are the most consistently accused of racial bias, the onus should by all rights shift to that candidate to address that fact. But Hatch, like every Republican in Congress since the beginning of the Obama “Stick our Heads in the Ground and Wait Until He’s Not Black” party line, he’d rather ignore inconvenient reality.
When Senator Dianne Feinstein, an old adversary, asked about a recent Washington Post piece that details his oil interests, he simply claimed that the interests were located on land “he inherited” and “barely pays attention to,” noting that if there were problems they’d get to the bottom of it and fix them. He didn’t mention if the New York Times questioning his ability to render neutral decisions was a “problem.”
Anytime Democrats could and should have gone for the jugular in these hearings, they stopped short and allowed Sessions’ polite Alabama drawl to chastise them into a long enough silence for a friendly Trumpkin to step in and do some peremptory fluffing. In fact, there was more defending against charges of racism by Republicans than grilling of Sessions on those charges by Democrats. As if to put a cherry on the underdone, limp, and cold cake that is the opposition party, Ted Cruz, with what appeared at first to be a shit-eating grin but may have just been his face, commended Democrats for “showing considerable restraint.”
Sessions again at least showed he was game to be a traditional politician by taking the time and public forum to soften several stances he held as a senator, even going so far as to call global warming “plausible.” That this is a victory for Republican moderatism in 2016 is sad. But taken with the fact that Democrats did manage to hammer out some legal boundaries for Sessions’ office, these small concessions can at least be taken as a small token of rational governance in the Trump era. Of particular interest, hopefully, were questions of whether or not Sessions would recuse himself from investigations into Donald Trump. For the record, Sessions said he would go along with standing special prosecutor precedent. Here’s hoping that statement gets tested as soon after Jan. 20 as possible.