President-elect Donald Trump has selected Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as his top choice for attorney general, a decision that drew praise from one of the nation’s most radical anti-choice organizations.
Officials close to Trump’s transition team said Friday that Trump had picked Sessions, who in February became one of the first members of Congress to endorse the Republican in his campaign for president. Trump met with Sessions on Thursday at his office in New York.
Troy Newman, who heads the extremist anti-choice group Operation Rescue and has long pushed violent anti-abortion rhetoric, cheered Sessions’ selection, saying in a statement that the organization “could not be happier” with the appointment.
“I have worked on projects with Sen. Sessions in the past and know him to be an experienced prosecutor and a principled pro-life advocate with a reputation for honesty,” said Newman, whose group is known for its campaigns to intimidate and harass abortion care providers.
Officials from reproductive rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America blasted Trump’s decision.
“The last person women and families need in this job is someone who has repeatedly given a pass to individuals who commit acts of violence against abortion clinics, doesn’t take sexual assault seriously, and was determined to be too racist by a GOP-led Senate to become a federal judge,” Ilyse Hogue, the organization’s president, said in a statement. “But that’s who Jeff Sessions is. His record of misogyny and racism makes him unfit to be the country’s top lawyer. The American people deserve far better, but with Donald Trump at the helm, we know we won’t get it.”
Sessions during his time in Congress has consistently acted to curb access to abortion and reproductive health care. Anti-choice group National Right to Life found that he voted with them in all 69 votes they analyzed to get a picture of his record. Sessions has co-sponsored legislation such as the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” a failed 20-week abortion ban based on the debunked claim that a fetus feels pain at that point in a pregnancy.
After the Washington Post published hot-mic audio of Trump bragging about grabbing and kissing women without consent, Sessions came to the candidate’s defense. He said that while Trump used “very improper language,” what the now-president-elect described was not sexual assault.
“I think that’s a stretch,” Sessions said.
But it’s the Alabama senator’s record on civil rights that may draw the most criticism. Sessions was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 for a spot as a federal district court judge, but a bipartisan panel on the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected his nomination due to allegations that Sessions had a history of racially biased comments and actions. Sessions was “only the second man in fifty years to not be recommended for confirmation,” according to Democracy Now.
During a 1986 committee hearing, Sessions admitted that he “may have said something about the NAACP being un-American or Communist,” though he claimed he “meant no harm by it.” He also acknowledged that he believed that the Voting Rights Act was a “piece of intrusive legislation.”
One of his former deputies also alleged that Sessions “had considered the Ku Klux Klan an acceptable organization until he learned that its members used marijuana,” according to a 1986 report from the New York Times. Sessions denied the claim.
Sessions has been a vocal critic of immigration, and has spoken out against legal immigration to the United States. According to the Washington Post, Sessions “has opposed nearly every immigration bill that has come before the Senate the past two decades that has included a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.”
Sessions, in a 2015 opinion piece for the Post, complained that “each year, the United States adds another million mostly low-wage permanent legal immigrants who can work, draw benefits and become voting citizens” and argued for an “immigration curb.”