World News of Tuesday, 31 January 2017
The US Senate Judiciary Committee is to vote on President Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
A conservative senator and early backer of Mr Trump, Mr Sessions has been dogged by allegations of racism which overshadowed his confirmation hearings.
The vote comes a day after the president dismissed Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who questioned the legality of his immigration directive.
It imposes a temporary travel ban on seven, mainly-Muslim countries.
Committee chairman Senator Chuck Grassley began the meeting by saying that neither Mr Sessions nor any of his current staff, “had a role in formulating or drafting the executive orders” – including the controversial travel ban.
Several Democratic Senators have spoken in the committee meeting, which is now under way, to say that they intend to vote against the Alabama Senator.
If Mr Sessions’ nomination is approved by the judiciary committee, the full Senate – where Republicans hold a 52-48 majority – is expected to vote on it by the end of the week.
The 69-year-old Alabama senator faced two days of tough questioning during his confirmation hearings this month.
Mr Sessions – who once joked that he approved of the Ku Klux Klan until he heard they smoked marijuana – described allegations of support for the KKK as “damnably false”.
“I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology,” he said. He also denied allegations that he once called a black assistant US attorney “boy”.
Committee Republicans have praised Mr Sessions, with Iowa Senator Charles Grassley describing him as a “man of his word”.
But Democrats have opposed his nomination. Sen Diane Feinstein criticised his role in Mr Trump’s election campaign and his closeness to the new president during it.
“It is very difficult to reconcile for me the independence and objectivity necessary for the position of attorney general with the partisanship this nominee has demonstrated,” she said.
One of the most conservative members of the Senate, Mr Sessions was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 after the judiciary committee heard testimony about his remarks on race.
The attorney general is America’s top prosecutor, leads the justice department and acts as the main adviser to the president on legal issues.
Sally Yates had been appointed by President Barack Obama. She was sacked by President Trump, who accused her of “betraying” the justice department and being “weak on borders”.
She had said in a letter that she was “not convinced” that the president’s order on immigration was lawful.
“As long as I am the acting attorney general, the department of justice will not present arguments in defence of the executive order,” she said.
Mr Trump replaced her with Dana Boente, a federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The immigration order, signed by the president on Friday, temporarily banned nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the US. It sparked protests in the US and abroad.
Hundreds of diplomats and foreign servants have been drafting a “dissent cable” to formally criticise the move.
A draft version of the cable said that immigration restrictions would not make the US safer, were un-American and would send the wrong message to the Muslim world.
The White House has consistently defended Mr Trump’s executive order despite the controversy, with press secretary Sean Spicer saying diplomats should “get with the programme”.