The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to advance President Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. The panel voted along party lines, with Sessions' potential role in a controversial executive order blocking travel from several Muslim-majority countries casting a shadow over proceedings.
On Feb. 1, the Senate committee voted to advance Sessions for broader consideration in the chamber by a vote of 11 in favor and nine against. The vote was scheduled to take place a day beforehand, but was delayed by the Democrats following the controversy of an executive order that Trump signed over the weekend.
On Jan. 27, Trump had signed an order temporarily prohibiting the U.S. from admitting any refugees and placing a 90-day entry ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, sparking protests in airports across the nation.
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates had deemed the executive order unconstitutional and had ordered the Department of Justice not to defend it in court. Trump promptly fired Yates, replacing her with U.S. Attorney Dana Boente of Virginia, who has complied with the order.
On Jan. 30, the Senate Minority Leader, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, announced that he and his colleagues would scrutinize the Trump Cabinet appointees over their views on the immigration ban.
"I will continue to demand that each nominee issue a public statement on his or her views of President Trump's Muslim ban, I will vote against nominees who will be the very worst of this anti-immigrant, anti-middle-class, billionaires' club Cabinet," Schumer stated, according to CNN.
Democrats viewed Sessions as complicit in the controversial executive order. One of the authors of the immigration ban was Trump senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, who had previously been a close adviser of the Alabama senator. Sources within the Trump transition team also asserted that Sessions had encouraged the president to begin his term by signing a blitzkrieg of executive orders to catch political opponents off-guard, The Washington Post reports.
Sessions has flatly denied having a role in the executive order. On Jan. 30, the attorney general nominee responded to a written question from the Senate Judiciary Committee about his influence on the executive orders that Trump has issued.
"None," Sessions wrote, according to The Associated Press. "Neither I, nor any of my current staff, had such a role."
On Jan. 31, tensions flared on the Senate committee, with Democrats asserting that Sessions was lying about his role in the executive order.
"To suggest he didn't have an impact on these executive orders is misleading," said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, according to The Hill. "He had indirect influence at the highest level."
The Committee chairman, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, defended Sessions.
"I'm not sure if it would be a probe, even if he was involved," Grassley said. "The fact of the matter is he was not involved."
Now Sessions' confirmation will be up for a vote in the entire Senate. The Alabama senator's chances of assuming the top legal position in the country are strong, only requiring 50 votes for confirmation and facing a 52-seat GOP majority that has shown no defections against him.
"We don't have the votes in many instances, so in order to stop any nominee, we need three profiles in courage on the Republican side," said Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii. "Those are just the facts."