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Washington • Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch warned that while Senate Democrats may try to derail the confirmation of Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions over accusations of past racism, they won't be successful as the first day of hearings began with some of President-elect Donald Trump's top picks.
"Some on the far left will stop at nothing to defeat this nomination," Hatch said. "They oppose this because Senator Sessions will not politicize the Justice Department or use its resources to further a political agenda. They make up one thing after another to create a caricature that bears no resemblance to the nominee."
Sessions, an Alabama Republican, defended himself Tuesday as Democrats quizzed him on whether he had ever supported the Ku Klux Klan "I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology," Sessions replied as well as his opposition to hate-crimes laws, legal abortion and a version of the Violence Against Women Act.
Hatch, as well as fellow Republicans, attempted to portray as purely partisan handwringing any concerns with Sessions.
"I've been on this committee for a long time and I've seen these dirty tactics used before," Hatch said. "They're not going to work this time."
On the Violence Against Women's Act, for example, Hatch noted there were two bills last time the act was reauthorized, one with "controversial provisions" and one without those provisions, and Sessions supported the latter.
As he has for nearly every attorney general nominee over the decades, Hatch also raised concerns about the lack of prosecution of obscenity laws, prompting Sessions to promise they would be "effectively and vigorously prosecuted." Sessions also said, under questioning from Hatch, that he would consider re-establishing an specific unit of the Justice Department to such prosecutions.
Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, quizzed Sessions on whether he would appoint special prosecutors, to which Sessions replied that it would be inappropriate to "willy-nilly" use that approach.
Following on questions from Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy about prosecuting sick people who are using marijuana in states where it was legal, Lee offered a lesson on federalism and what power the Founding Fathers intended the national government to have.
"There are federal laws prohibiting the use of marijuana, the sale of marijuana, the production of marijuana that apply regardless of whether a state has independently criminalized that drug, as every state until recently had," Lee said, posing a question about the separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution.
Lee's office later clarified that the senator wasn't taking a position one way or the other, but attempting to discern Session's enforcement approach.
Sessions said it's not the Justice Department's role to decide what laws to enforce.
"One obvious concern is that the United States Congress has made the possession of marijuana in every state and distribution of it an illegal act, so that's something that is not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule," Sessions added.