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Black Caucus members storm Senate floor to protest Sessions

The group of roughly 10 House members marched onto the Senate floor to draw attention to their opposition to Sessions. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson)

February 08, 2017

House lawmakers led by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, other Congressional Black Caucus members made a spectacle of themselves by staging a protest against Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination to attorney general on the Senate floor Wednesday.

The group of roughly 10 House members, including the dean of the House, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., as well as Democrat Reps. Lacy Clay of Missouri, Hank Johnson of Georgia and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, traveled to the Senate side of the Capitol and marched onto the floor in an effort to draw attention to themselves and their opposition to Sessions’ confirmation on civil rights grounds.

“Sen. Sessions may be one of the most incompatible nominees to the Department of Justice that we’ve seen in decades – that department is a department of the vulnerable,” Jackson Lee told the Washington Examiner after leaving the Senate floor. None would say why that, if they felt this way, why did they wait years before bringing the matter up?

“It is a department that deals with the issues of civil rights mostly, it deals with the issue of voting rights, and the empowerment of women. It deals with the issues of protecting those on the questions of marriage equality, gender discrimination and no record has been more potent against all of those issues,” she said, speaking about Sessions but not mentioning any specifics about his positions over the years.

Jackson Lee said she and other House members are “outraged” over the decision by Senate Republicans to shut down Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., while she was reciting a letter written by Coretta Scott King, the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. That letter was critical of Sessions’ voting rights record, and is one that was sent 30 years ago when Senate was considering Sessions’ nomination to a federal judgeship.

“I think last night and the treatment of Sen. Warren spoke loudly to the crux of our concern,” she said. “Will there be any free speech and freedom in the department of justice, a place where you are to uphold the Constitution, if Elizabeth Warren cannot read from our beloved Coretta Scott King’s letter?”

After Republicans used a rarely invoked Senate standing rule to shut down Warren’s reading of the letter and other statements on Sessions, four other Democrat senators Tuesday night and Wednesday morning read from the same King letter, although they mostly avoided mentioning Sessions by name.

Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Tom Udall, D-N.N., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., read portions of the letter on the Senate floor.

King’s letter described a 1984 voter fraud case Sessions prosecuted as one “one more technique used to intimidate black voters and thus deny them this most precious franchise.”

That particular case involved complaints from one black candidate that another black candidates’ supporters were illegally tampering with elderly voters’ ballots. The defendants, including close King associate Al Turner, were eventually cleared of wrongdoing.