In a move reminiscent of the Jim Crow-era, three members of the Congressional Black Caucus were made to wait until the end of Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing to provide testimony.
Rep. John Lewis, Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Cedric Richmond and others, in Day 2 of the confirmation hearing, told congressional colleagues that Sessions was unfit for the role of attorney general on account of his past human rights record, which includes fighting laws that defended the rights of gays, women and other minorities.
However, the topics under discussion were not the only thing that raised the ire of congressional members and civil rights groups. It was the fact that members of the Congressional Black Caucus were not given even the courtesy to testify earlier during the proceedings but, instead, were told to sit back and testify at the end of the Day 2 alongside outside witnesses.
“I want to express my concerns about being made to testify at the very end of the witness panels,” Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, who testified last, said to applause from members of the Congressional Black Caucus seated behind him in the Russell Senate building. “To have a senator, a House member and a living civil rights legend testify at the end of all of this is the equivalent of being made to go to the back of the bus.”
"Having us testify at the end of this session, is equivalent to sitting at the back of the bus" pic.twitter.com/ZCu8r6516v— Rep Cedric Richmond (@RepRichmond) January 11, 2017
“I've been here almost 30 years and never seen anything like this,” Rep. John Lewis told a group of reporters after the hearing.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on Judiciary Committee, approached Chairman Chuck Grassle last week and asked him to allow the CBC members to appear before the committee to discuss Sessions’ nomination.
Grassley only allowed them to do so on the condition that the congressional lawmakers appear only after a group of outside witness give their testimony and scheduled a third panel for the lawmakers at the end of the second day, according to Politico.
Democrats perceived this move as an insult and a ploy to diminish the importance of the testimony of the CBC members. The move is also an unprecedented exit from Senate customs which require lawmakers to appear before non-lawmakers witnesses.
“I was pleased when Chairman Grassley agreed to make this possible, however I regret that they will have to wait until after a nine-member panel speaks,” Feinstein wrote. “Asking three members of Congress to sit and wait until the end of the hearing to testify — likely at the same time the Senate will be holding important budget votes — is deeply unfair.”
A spokesman for Grassley tried to explain away the act by stating Feinstein’s request came late after the hearing had already been scheduled and it would have been “disrespectful to make the other witnesses wait who were already slated to testify on the citizen panel.”
However, departure from Senate customs was also “disrespectful” to the CBC members.
Senate Democrats on Wednesday highlighted the treatment of African-Americans after the hearing ended.
“I regret that the chairman has decided to break committee tradition and make these members of Congress wait until the end of the hearing to speak. That is not how other chairmen have treated fellow members of Congress,” said former chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy in his opening remarks.
Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also spoke out on the controversy.
“I regret that a sitting U.S. senator had to fight to earn the right to speak at the Judiciary hearing ... and I regret the manner in which he was treated,” Schumer said.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Joshua Roberts