Left, right prep for battle royal over Sessions

Left, right prep for battle royal over Sessions
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Conservative and liberal groups are gearing up for a battle royal over Attorney General nominee Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsIntel leaders: Collusion still open part of investigation Republicans jockey for position on immigration Biden to Alabama: No more extremist senators MORE that some activists say will be so explosive, it could even overshadow a fight over Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE’s pick for the Supreme Court.

Nearly 150 outside groups on the left mobilizing to stop Sessions have delivered a stern, no-compromise message to incoming Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Crying on TV doesn't qualify Kimmel to set nation's gun agenda Trump knocks ‘fake’ news coverage of his trip to Puerto Rico MORE (D-N.Y.).

The groups plan to make Sessions’s past comments about race the defining element in his confirmation battle. 

“We’ve already been engaged with Schumer’s office with a real demand that he should stand up and fight and we will fight anyone who seeks to be an enabler for a racist overseeing our Justice Department,” said Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, which describes itself as the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. 

“People really have two choices. Either they’re OK with racism or they’re not. And if they’re not, then they’ve got to stand up against Jeff Sessions,” Robinson said.  

Sessions was blocked by a Republican-controlled Senate from a judicial appointment in 1986 over racial comments he allegedly made as a U.S. attorney for Alabama.

Sessions was accused 30 years ago of describing the NAACP as “un-American” and having “anti-traditional American values” and joking that he thought the KKK was "OK until I learned they smoked pot.” 

The late former assistant U.S. attorney, Thomas Figures, who was black, claimed that Sessions, his supervisor at the time, called him “boy.” 

E.T. Rolison Jr., who served as assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and obtained the conviction of a local Klan leader, testified in an affidavit signed this month that he never heard Sessions call Figures “boy.”

Figures in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 said he remembered Rolison and another assistant U.S. attorney, Ginny Granade, witnessed to the event.

Granade signed an affidavit in March of 1986 stating she never heard Sessions call him that.

Marge Baker, executive vice president of People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group that has long been involved in Supreme Court battles, estimated that about 150 outside groups “are in some way involved” in the battle against Sessions. Fifty to 60 organizations are “at the table” on a regular basis to plot strategy, she said. 

Conservative groups are just as determined to win Sessions’s confirmation.

Led by the Judicial Crisis Network, groups on the right are mobilizing a counteroffensive similar to what has been seen during past fights over Supreme Court vacancies. 

The Judicial Crisis Network last week launched a six-figure digital ad buy targeting the Washington, D.C. market praising Sessions’s record, featuring several clips of Trump touting him as “so highly respected”  and an “unbelievable guy.” 

Carrie Severino, the chief counsel and policy director of the group, says it’s prepared to pour in more resources depending on what liberal groups do.

“We are certainly are ready to do more if it seems necessary. We want to see if Democrats take it to the next level,” she said. 

Sessions, who is in his fourth term in the Senate, was one of Trump’s earlier supporters.

He’s best known nationally as a hard-line foe of immigration reform, and he’s seen positions that were once on the fringe of his own party carry Trump to the White House.

Liberals view him as hostile to their positions on issues ranging from hate crimes and violence against women to voting rights and immigration.  

Sessions only needs 51 votes to be confirmed, and GOP senators will be under enormous pressure to support one of their own. Republicans hold 52 seats in the chamber.

Severino said she thinks liberal groups are looking for a scalp to make up in some small way for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE’s dispiriting defeat last month. 

“My impression is he was the first one announced to the cabinet right out of the gates. You could expect this was going to happen because people were going so crazy out of the election,” she said. 

Conservative allies on Friday launched the website ConfirmSessions.com to defend his record as senator and Alabama’s attorney general. It features endorsements from a range of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee as well as Quinton Ross, the Democratic minority leader of the Alabama state senate. 

Severino says she has briefed “dozens of groups” on the right and cited the Heritage Foundation, Tea Party Patriots and the Susan B. Anthony’s List as groups that are involved.

The issue could be perilous for Schumer, who wants to give Democratic colleagues running for reelection in states won by Trump the room to back the president-elect nominees. 

That could put the new Democratic leader in between groups on the left pressing hard for him to build a Democratic wall against Sessions, and centrist Democrats who don’t want to cross voters back home.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOvernight Finance: Lawmakers grill Equifax chief over hack | Wells Fargo CEO defends bank's progress | Trump jokes Puerto Rico threw budget 'out of whack' | Mortgage tax fight tests industry clout Michelle Obama is exactly who the Democrats need to win big in 2020 Wells Fargo chief defends bank's progress in tense Senate hearing MORE (D-Mass.), who is more in tune with the liberal wing of the party than many of her Democratic colleagues in Congress, was one of the first members of the Senate to pounce on Sessions’s nomination as unacceptable.  

The fight so far is playing out over procedural lines, with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRepublicans jockey for position on immigration House clears bill to combat crimes against elderly Grassley: DACA deal wouldn't need border wall funding MORE (R-Iowa) and Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGun proposal picks up GOP support Gingrich: Banning rapid fire gun modification is ‘common sense’ House bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance MORE (Calif.), the incoming senior Democrat on the panel, playing the starring roles. 

Grassley has scheduled two days of hearings on Sessions for Jan. 10 and Jan. 11. He and other Republicans don’t want the nomination to get bogged down and argue that Grassley is following the precedent Democrats set for President Obama’s first nominee to serve as attorney general, Eric HolderEric H. HolderEric Holder group to sue Georgia over redistricting Eric Holder to Trump: 'Taking a knee is not without precedent' Juan Williams: Momentum builds against gerrymandering MORE, when they controlled the Senate in 2009. 

Democrats say they want more time to review Sessions’s record, pointing out they have 150,000 pages of material to review from his long legal and Senate career. They note that the late Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), President George W. Bush’s nominee to serve as attorney general, received four days of hearings in 2001. 

Outside of Congress, much of the organizing on the left is being conducted through the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which views the Sessions nomination as one of the defining battles of Trump’s first months in office. 

“We are getting many, many people on some of these calls,” said Scott Simpson, the director of media and campaigns at the Leadership Conference. “People are bringing their best researchers, their best legal minds, their best field people and communications people on this. 

“This is the first big battle to keep the country from moving backward,” he added. “We have this surge in hate crimes and it’s going to be up to this attorney general to enforce the laws and Sessions voted against the hate crimes law.” 

Different liberal groups are putting together various advertising and voter mobilization plans.  

Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, said “we will have resources for our advertising” that will target “elected leaders around the country as well as corporate, business and media leaders” who are lining up as “enablers.” 

MoveOn.org, another liberal advocacy group, is developing a video that will feature civil rights leaders commentating on Sessions’s record that the group plans to release next month, said Ben Wikler, the group’s Washington director.

- Updated at 9:34 a.m.