Booker testifies against Sessions at confirmation hearing

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) testified against Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHillicon Valley: State officials share tech privacy concerns with Sessions | Senator says election security bill won't pass before midterms | Instagram co-founders leave Facebook | Google chief to meet GOP lawmakers over bias claims On The Money: US trade chief casts doubt on Canada joining new deal | House panel invites Watt accuser to testify | Brady defends GOP message on tax cuts State officials press Sessions on tech privacy worries MORE (R-Ala.) becoming attorney general in an unprecedented move Wednesday, saying he has to stand up for what his conscience tells him is best for the country. 

"I know that some of my colleagues are unhappy that I’m breaking with Senate tradition to testify against the nomination of one of my colleagues," Booker said. "But I believe, like perhaps all of my colleagues, that in the choice between standing with Senate norms or standing up for what my conscience tells me is best for our country, I will always choose conscience and country."

Booker argued that Sessions has not proven he can uphold the responsibilities of an attorney general, namely ensuring equal rights for all Americans. 

"Sen. Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requisite of the job to aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights and justice for all of our citizens," Booker said.

Booker said that at numerous times throughout his career, Sessions has demonstrated a "hostility" toward pursuing equal rights.

“If confirmed, Sen. Sessions will be required to pursue justice for women, but his record indicates that he won’t,” Booker said. “He will be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian Americans, but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend voting rights, but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend the rights of immigrants and affirm their human dignity, but his record indicates he won’t.”

Booker had five minutes to testify before the Judiciary Committee, but a panel spokeswoman said he would not answer questions from committee members. 

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Booker is the first sitting senator to ever testify against another sitting senator chosen for a Cabinet post. The break from tradition drew criticism from their colleagues, who accused him of using the hearing to score political points ahead of a run for president in 2020.

"I’m very disappointed that Senator Booker has chosen to start his 2020 presidential campaign by testifying against Senator Sessions," Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP senator accuses Dems of ‘character assassination’ on Kavanaugh Sprint/T-Mobile deal must not allow China to threaten US security GOP senators condemn 'vulgar' messages directed at Collins over Kavanaugh MORE (R-Ark.) reportedly wrote Tuesday in a Facebook post.

"This disgraceful breach of custom is especially surprising since Senator Booker just last year said he was 'honored to have partnered with Senator Sessions' on a resolution honoring civil-rights marchers." 

When questioned by reporters after the hearing, Booker said he doesn’t care that he’s been criticized.

“I don’t care about pressure, I don’t care about criticism,” he said. “When it comes to matters of conscience and country, I will always stand up and I encourage other Americans, during this time in particular, to not be silent on matters of principles, on matters of protecting our Constitution, the values of our nation like equal protection under the law.”

But not all the witnesses at Wednesday's hearing were against Sessions.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Willie Huntley, former U.S. Marshal Jesse Seroyer, and William Smith, former chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, all of whom are black, testified on his behalf.

Huntley said Sessions changed his life in 1987, when he asked him to become an assistant U.S. attorney in Alabama.

When he met with Sessions, he said, he “got the feeling more and more” that the allegations of racism, including the purported remarks that sunk his 1986 nomination for a federal judgeship, were not true.

“Unfortunately, I made a decision to leave the attorney’s office in 1991, but that decision was not based on anything that had happened to me during my time in the U.S. attorney’s office,” he said. “During that time period, Jeff gave me advice, counsel. He provided a great deal of support in everything that I did.”

He said he believes Sessions will enforce and follow the laws of the U.S. “even handedly, equally and with justice for all.”

Booker’s testimony came on the second day of hearings on Sessions. A vote on his confirmation could come later this month. Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTrump: Dems playing destructive 'con game' with Kavanaugh Kavanaugh accuser Ramirez's attorney says Republicans were no-shows on scheduled call Grassley taps Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to question Kavanaugh, Ford MORE (R-Iowa) said the record will be left open for the next week. 

Updated 4:10 p.m.