Attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 10, 2017, in the first day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Andrew Harnik, The Associated Press)

Jeff Sessions approved by Senate Judiciary Committee to advance to full Senate confirmation vote

The vote was 11-9, along party lines

WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted 11-9 to advance the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., as attorney general. He is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate by the end of the week.

Republicans, who need only a majority vote to approve him, control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats, and Democrats have thus far failed to convince anyone on the other side of the aisle to oppose Sessions.

The committee vote, which passed along party lines, comes at a tumultuous time for the Department of Justice. On Monday, President Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama administration holdover, after she refused to defend his controversial immigration order.

Senate Democrats lambasted the move as improper and said it called into question whether Sessions would enforce laws with which the president took issue. Republicans, meanwhile, asserted that Yates was the one to have acted wrongly in refusing to defend an order that the Justice Department’s own Office of Legal Counsel had deemed lawful.

The dispute led to a bitter Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, and the panel ultimately decided it would wait a day to vote on Sessions’ nomination. On Wednesday, Democrats again launched bitter attacks against Sessions before the vote.

The process, along with fights over other cabinet nominees, has frustrated Trump, who took to Twitter Tuesday to decry Democrats.

“When will the Democrats give us our Attorney General and rest of Cabinet!” he wrote. “They should be ashamed of themselves! No wonder D.C. doesn’t work!”

Until Sessions can be confirmed, the Justice Department is being led by Dana Boente, the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia who was chosen to lead in Yates’ place. Boente, a longtime Justice Department lawyer nominated by President Barack Obama for his U.S. attorney’s job, rescinded Yates’ directive not to defend Trump’s immigration order.

Trump on Tuesday also announced three other picks for Justice Department leadership. Provided they are confirmed, Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. Attorney from Maryland, will serve as the deputy attorney general, the No. 2 post in the department, and Rachel Brand, a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, will serve as the associate attorney general, the No. 3 post. The White House said Trump intends to nominate Steven Engel, a lawyer at the Dechert firm, as an Assistant Attorney General with reports suggesting he will run the Office of Legal Counsel.


Author Information: Matt Zapotosky covers the Justice Department for the Washington Post’s National Security team. @mattzap