Trump taps Sessions for AG

Trump taps Sessions for AG
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President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE has selected Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump: Appointing Sessions was my biggest mistake Nikki Haley blasts Roy Moore's Senate bid: 'He does not represent our Republican Party' Time magazine: Trump threatened reporter with prison time MORE (R-Ala.) to serve as his attorney general, Trump's transition team announced Friday morning. 

Sessions becomes the first person selected by Trump to a Cabinet-level position in the new administration. In doing so, Trump selected one of his most loyal supporters and a senator whose border-security positions predated Trump's candidacy. 

“Jeff has been a highly respected member of the U.S. Senate for 20 years,” Trump said in a statement. “He is a world-class legal mind and considered a truly great Attorney General and U.S. Attorney in the state of Alabama. Jeff is greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him.”

The 69-year-old Alabama Republican was the first senator to endorse Trump's White House bid. Two of his top staffers have become key players in Trump's orbit on the campaign and the transition team. 

That loyalty has gone a long way with Trump: A source told The Hill ahead of the announcement that Sessions had his pick of Cabinet spots

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The two men met at Trump Tower on Wednesday, with Trump specifically highlighting the senator's "phenomenal record."

In the statement from Trump’s transition team, Sessions said he is “humbled” to have been chosen for the job. 

“My previous 15 years working in the Department of Justice were extraordinarily fulfilling. I love the Department, its people and its mission. I can think of no greater honor than to lead them,” he said.

If confirmed, Sessions would succeed Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman to serve as the nation's top law enforcement official.

But Democratic opposition to Sessions is already beginning, signaling the potential for a rocky path to confirmation. 

Past controversies touching on race will dominate the discussion surrounding Sessions, who would preside over an agency with responsibilities to protect civil rights. 

Thirty years ago, Sessions was denied a federal judge position over allegations that he had called the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union "un-American" and said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was "OK, until he learned they smoked marijuana." 

Sessions has vehemently denied the claims, but Democrats are already pointing to the accusations as disqualifying. 

David Axelrod, President Obama's former senior adviser, blasted Sessions’s selection on Twitter, arguing the appointment will "send chills to advocates of civil and immigrant rights." 

The leader of the liberal Democracy for America issued a statement that said Sessions was barely more qualified to lead the Justice Department than a member of the KKK.

“The handful of people who might be even less equipped than Jeff Sessions to dispense justice on behalf of the American people typically spend their weekends wearing pointy hats and burning crosses,” Democracy for American executive director Charles Chamberlain said.

Sessions was a vocal critic of Obama's immigration reform efforts.

Defenders of Sessions argue he has a better record on civil rights than he receives credit for.

Supporters point to his vote in favor of a 30-year extension of the Civil Rights Act, for example, or multiple desegregation lawsuits he filed as a U.S. attorney in Alabama.
 
Sessions in April 1999, meanwhile, led efforts to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Rosa Parks, a civil rights icon and Alabama native.

Senior Trump adviser Jason Miller told reporters that Sessions is "very well qualified" for the position on a Friday conference call. 

He brushed aside concerns about Sessions’s earlier scuttled confirmation, noting that the senator filed a number of desegregation lawsuits while working in the Justice Department, voted for the Civil Rights Act's extension and backed Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderThe most important pledge Democratic presidential candidates can make Congress and contempt: What you need to know The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats wonder: Can Nadler handle the Trump probe? MORE, the first black attorney general.

"We feel very confident that Sen. Sessions has the background and the support to receive confirmation," Miller added. 

Sessions’s pick has so far been greeted warmly by Republican senators, who will have to sign off on the nomination. The Alabama senator will have to pass through the Judiciary Committee, a feat he could not accomplish during his 1986 appointment, and then get confirmed by the Senate by winning a simple majority of senators. 

There are currently 51 Republicans in the Senate and 48 Democrats, with Republicans expected to pick up another seat after a December runoff in Louisiana. Sessions is generally well-liked by his colleagues, and it's likely they will confirm him — especially because of the 51-vote threshold. 

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeJeff Flake becoming Harvard fellow Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE (R-Ariz.), one of Trump's more vocal GOP opponents throughout the election, said he would back Sessions. 

And other top Republican senators have signaled through statements they'll vote for him, too, including Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats give Trump trade chief high marks GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks MORE (Texas) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley raises concerns about objectivity of report critical of GOP tax law's effects Overnight Health Care: Key Trump drug pricing proposal takes step forward | Missouri Planned Parenthood clinic loses bid for license | 2020 Democrats to take part in Saturday forum on abortion rights Key Trump proposal to lower drug prices takes step forward MORE (Iowa). 

Sessions has represented Alabama in the Senate for nearly 20 years, and his appointment would leave a vacancy in the ruby-red state.  

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz Hickenlooper, Bennet bring deep ties to 2020 debate stage 2020 Democrat Bennet releases comprehensive government reform plan GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (Texas), Trump's main rival in the Republican presidential primary, had been interested in the role, too. Cruz met with Trump on Tuesday, and while the senator has publicly demurred when asked about his interest in the position, he privately told those close to him that he was interested in serving as Trump's attorney general. 

Cruz quickly released a statement lauding Sessions's nomination as "great news for all of us who revere the Constitution and the rule of law" soon after the selection broke. 

Trump on Friday also announced retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) to lead the CIA

Jonathan Swan contributed. Updated at 2 p.m.