Unlike most of his would-be Cabinet mates, Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions has filed his ethics and financial disclosure forms. When Senate committee hearings began this morning, his opponents were ready.
Lisa Desjardins, from PBS Newshour, posted the welcome Senator Sessions received from the gallery.
You’ll note that the faux Klansman was removed pretty quickly, but the maroon Statue of Liberty, surely no fan of the senator, was allowed to stay–at least for a while. Sessions’s opponents–and there are plenty of them–waited until the hearing resumed, then popped up, one or two at a time, to lodge their charges from the gallery until they were removed. This “popcorn” protest can go on for a long time, interrupted, delaying, and inflecting the hearings.
Senator Sessions was pressed by both the protesters and tough questions from Democrats on the committee, who had themselves been pressured by email and calls from activists demanding a strong stance against the appointment. Sessions felt compelled to announce his support for civil rights, voting rights, Supreme Court precedent, and the rule of law generally. He certainly knew this was coming, and prepared for it. Indeed, the NAACP staged a sit-in at one of his home offices a week ago (below).
Congressional hearings, confirmation hearings in particular, present a relatively compact stage for activists to advance their claims. The presence of opponents, elected officials, and media–against the backdrop of the Capitol, make for good drama and viral video.
The turbulence probably won’t stop Senator Sessions’s confirmation as Attorney General. Republicans enjoy a majority in the Senate, and he is apparently well-liked by his colleagues. There are no public reports of personal corruption or impropriety–charges of racism set aside. But the potential impact of a protest like this one–and there are likely to be many like this confronting most, if not all, of Trump’s appointees–plays out over a much longer time than the drama of a hearing, or even the days-long deliberations in the larger Senate.
Taunts and tough questions elicit qualifiers and assurances that might actually affect the way Attorney General General Sessions does his job; more likely, they’ll provide a recent and accessible record of almost promises that opponents can haul out when the Justice Department does anything like what the protesters fear. Most likely, they’ll elicit clear statements about the nominee’s views on immigration, reproductive rights, and access to voting that organizers can use to mobilize more opposition.
The point: although it’s easy and natural to focus on the drama of the moment, demonstrations like this only really matter in the context of much longer and varied campaigns; but, they really can matter.