tv MSNBC Live MSNBC January 31, 2017 7:00am-8:01am PST
decisions of all time? he said, quote, it is. he said he believes the decision, quote, violated the constitution, end quote. as attorney general who said he believes a woman's well-established, fundamental rights are unconstitutional is essentially inviting states to pass more restrictions to women's access to health care, knowing full well the justice department may in fact support those in court. in fact, i asked whether the justice department under his leadership would seek to overturn roe or change precedent on reproductive rights. he left the door open by saying, and i quote, such decisions would depend upon the unique circumstances of the case or cases as they arise.
i will not prejudge the issues, end quote. and when asked by senator blumenthal whether he believes a woman should be punished for having an abortion, as the president said during the campaign, senator sessions could have given a simple no answer, but he did not. he refused to rule out punishment for women. instead, he merely noted that while the supreme court had upheld the right to an abortion, that right had been limited by various state and federal statutes, quote, many of which have been upheld as constitutional, end quote. and noted that his role as attorney general would be to faithfully enforce all laws.
he clearly left open the possibility that he would enforce laws that punish women. the final issue i'd like to touch on, mr. chairman, is civil liberties. ever since 9/11, we've had an intense struggle between self liberties and national security. i think people know i believe in strong national security, but i also believe we must never sacrifice our values or fundamental constitutional rights as americans. it's clear from the record the nominee believes otherwise. senator sessions was one of only nine senators in 2005 to vote against the detainee treatment act, which contained senator mccain's and my bipartisan amendment that prohibited cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment for individuals in
american custody. in 2008 on the senate floor, he praised a prior attorney general for refusing to rule out the use of waterboarding in the future and claimed that enhanced interrogation techniques were necessary to stop additional terrorist plots. specifically he stated, and i quote, i'm glad attorney general mukasey was able to say waterboarding had only been used three times and had not been used in five years but i'm also glad he did into the say -- not say it would never be done again. these not true. one person was subjected to waterboarding 183 times.
and as the cia's intensive study revealed, the see callo-called d interrogation techniques, particularly waterboarding were and are ineffective and did not produce actionable intelligence. and in the summer of 2016, the not nominee was one of 21 senators to vote against prohibiting waterboarding and other techniques not found in the army field manual. he's even expressed support for the detention of americans captured on american soil to be held without charge or trial. these positions give me no confidence the nominee will uphold our laws and civil liberties as attorney general. mr. chairman, today we are being asked to vote on the one person who will lead the department of
justice and its 113,000 employees charged with defending the interests of the united states according to our nation's laws and ensuring fair and impartial administration of justice for all americans. we're being asked to vote on a nominee that will have to stand up to a president who is clearly willing to ignore the law and even issue orders in violation of the constitution. we are being asked to determine whether this nominee's record demonstrates that he will have the octoberivibjectivity to enf laws for all american and be an independent attorney general and not an arm of the white house. yesterday early in the evening we clearly saw what a truly independent attorney general does. sally yates, the acting attorney
general, who enjoyed broad bipartisan support when she was confirmed as deputy attorney general, declared that under her leadership the department could not defend trump's executive order on immigrants and refugees. here's what she wrote, and it's important and i quote, my responsibility is to ensure that the position of the department of justice is not only legally defensible but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts. in addition, i am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution's solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right. at present i am not convinced that the defense of the executive order with these responsibilities, nor am i convinced that the executive
order is lawful, end quote. consequently, for as long as i am the attorney general, the department of justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order, unless and until i become convinced that it is appropriate to do so. members, that statement took guts. that statement said what an independent attorney general should do. that stamt took a steel spine to stand up and say no. it took the courage of elliott richardson and william ruckleshouse to stood up to president nixon. that is what an attorney general must be willing and able to do. i have no confidence that senator sessions will do that. instead, he has been the fiercest, most dedicated and most loyal promoter in congress
of the trump agenda and has played a critical role in the clearinghouse for policy and philosophy to undergird the implementation of that agenda. with this in mind, i must vote no. thank you. >> senator hatch. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i enthusiastically support -- >> you have been watching senator dianne feinstein in the confirmation hearing now for jeff sessions to become the next attorney general of the united states. any minute now we expect to hear from house speaker paul ryan at a leadership conference that is happening not too far from where we are. within the last couple of minutes here, two of president trump's cabinet picks have made it through their confirmation hearings, rick perry and ryan
zinke. they're expected to pass the full senate. there is no date when that will happen. we are also watching the betsy devos hearing. she's been one of the more controversial picks here as well. we're going to bring you back to the hearing for alabama senator jeff sessions. >> i believe that jeff will be an outstanding attorney general for the nation, unquote. another example comes from our former colleague, the late senator arlen specter. he served for many years on this committee, including as chairman. he was one of my friends. more than 20 years after he voted against jeff's 1986 nomination to the u.s. district court, senator specter said that this was the one vote out of more than 10,000 that he regretted. what changed his mind? it's simple. he served with jeff sessions, he
got to know self-sessijeff sess saw the real jeff sessions in action. the confirmation process have been very revealing. his critics appear to believe an attorney general cannot enforce a law he personally opposes or may have voted against. i reject that notion and am confident they would think differently if a senator from their side of the aisle were one day nominate p nated to this position. basing decisions on political rather than legal factors was becoming the hall mark. they defend in court laws that congress acted but because the administration politically opposed them. imagine if senator sessions said
he planned to be the arbiter on whether executive branch actions are right or just. imagine if he said the justice department would defend only those that he deemed to be wise. i can hear the how wills of protect, the condemnation and calls for opposition. thankfully he is not so arrogant as that. senator sessions -- they refuse to tell the truth, even about something as simple as support for the violence against women act. he support and supported it in five and again in 2014. mr. sessions is honorable, he's fair, he's a man of the highest integrity. he's committed to the rule of law all the fact that we might
differ on some interpretations of the law doesn't mean a person isn't good or can't do this job in the justice department. the fact of the matter is i don't know of many people that have the qualifications that jeff sessions has and there have been no attorneys general that have had the amount of experience before baching attorney general that he will have had. all i can say is he's a man of integrity, a decent and honorable man and i hope we can pass him through this committee. >> senator leahy. >> thank you, mr. chairman. you know, it is almost as though we're discussing two different people here, but maybe that's because it is a strange year. certainly the strangest i've seen in the years i've been here
in the senate. and what we saw last night is what's at sake with this nomination. i said and i believe that the president's decision to fire sally yates is shameful. his accusation that she betrayed the department of justice is dangerous. the attorney general is the people's attorney, not the president's attorney. here she does not wear two hats, as one attorney general tried to claim years ago. it's not the department of justice -- it's not the secretary of justice, it's the department of justice. it is not the president's attorney, it is the attorney
general of the united states. one who is there for everybody, everybody in the united states. now sally yates exemplaified th best of this role, when she strongly prosecuted some of the most serious crimes in this country, did so irrespective of the political leanings of the people she was prosecuting and she served in the finest tradition of the justice department. she sets a high standard for the department and for the nation. i called her this morning and told her that. i also remember the question she
was asked by senator sessions under oath. and she was asked would you be willing to stand up to a president? would you be willing to tell a president when he's wrong? those of us around this table remember that and under oath she said she would. well, she kept her word. she upheld her oath. she did what she was supposed to do. senator feinstein mentioned elliott richardson and bill ruckleshouse. they did the same. i knew them both as people of integrity. i know sally yates as a person of integrity. despite the president's strong interest to implement a muslim
ban, ms. yates determined that the executive order was not defensible. that was not a surprising conclusion. the executive order discriminates by design. it's wrong, i believe it is illegal. several federal courts have already found president trump's executive order is indefensible. understand what's happening here. i've been here with numerous administrations, republican and democratic. i think one of my first role
call vot -- roll call votes was for republican attorney general smith. i then declared i would vote for attorney general barr and we had a voice vote. but these are people i thought would defend the independence of the justice department. as a young law student, i and two or three others picked by the attorney general from different law schools were interviewed by the then attorney general. we asked him similar questions about how independent the attorney general could be.
could they be independent if it's in the interest of justice, independent of the president of the united states. and as a young law student, i'll never forget the response. he said we'd have to do if somebody commits a crime, breaks the law, we'll have to take action. the attorney general did that in a celebrated case where he prosecuted someone from illinois who had been vital in the election of the president who appointed him. the president who appointed him was his brother. this was attorney general robert kennedy he prosecuted. he showed the independence of
the department of justice. now, president trump has played the independence of the justice department at stake. he's put the department on in the, if you adhere to your oath of office to defend the constitution, then you risk your job. that no precedent should say at the department of justice. at this critical time we need an attorney general who can stand up to the president, someone with the fidelity to the rule of law, not a political ideology, someone who will support the thousands of career prosecutors in the department, people who are republicans, democrats or have no political affiliation, they're career prosecutors. they serve our nation. they defend the constitution without fear or favor. now, there is something looming over this nomination that i suspect is on the minds of both
republicans and democrats. the fact is we're debating who should be an attorney general in a trump administration. this is an administration that needed only one week, only one week to find itself on the losing side of an argument in federal court. i've been here with president ford, president carter, president reagan, president clinton, president bush, both president bushes, president oba obama. never, ever seen anything like that. in fact, the administration's unpredictability, recklessness, extreme agenda cast as shadow over all of the president's
nominees and that includes senator sessions. now, i was a junior member on this committee 31 years ago when jeff sessions was nominated to a federal judgeship. this committee, republicans were in the majority but the committee on a bipt basis rewe're not confident that he would be a fair judge. i'm not basing my decisions on that case. that was then today we're considering him to be chief law enforcement of the united states, not the chief law enforcement of the president, but the chief law enforcement officer of the united states. that includes every one of us.
attorney general has to be independent. he must faithfully serve all americans. and i've carefully viewed -- frankly, i find it hard to remember when i've reviewed a nominee's record so thoroughly as i have this. i reviewed his extensive record, i've reviewed his responses to serious questions asked by this committee. i'm not convinced he meets the threshold standard and so i have to oppose this nomination. nothing to do with friendship with senator sessions, somebody i've known. >> but it has to do with whether you'd be the kind of independent we need as attorney general for all the country.
i have very serious doubts that senator sessions would be an independent attorney general. let me give you a few reasons why. there have been months of media coverage about prum's many conflicts of interest and the tou constitutional concerns. months they've been in the press but senator sessions has repeatedly not answered my questions claiming he didn't have time to review the issue. the president should not personally profit from their decisions. this is willful blindness on the part of senator sessions and
extends even to russian interference in our democracy. i asked him a series of questions. we talked about the intelligence community's report, quote, on russian activities and intentions. most of that report have been made public. if there are any parts that haven't been made blirks they've been available to every senator. multiple time he answered my question by stating "i've not reviewed the report, but i have no reason not to accept the intelligent g-- intelligence.
i asked him if the actions dedescribed were illegal and that's not a difficult question. the answer should be an obvious yes. >> we're interrupting here senator leahy to bring you over to house speaker paul ryan answering questions from reporters on the hill. >> what is happening is something we support, which is we need to pause and make sure that the vetting standards are up to snuff so we can guarantee the safety and security of our country. that is what this does. we want that goal to be achieved. i support the refugee resettlement program. we're a generous country, it's important, but we can be generous and watch our national security at the same time. that's why i'm confident that secretary kelly, along with other cabinet members are going to make sure that we have the proper review and vetting so we can get this program up and running with the proper national security safeguards. i think it's regrettable there
was confusion on the roll-out of this. no one wanted to see anyone with green cards or translators get caught up in this. secretary kelly will make sure this is do and correctly, they get a good review and we get the program up and running with the kind of -- >> reporter: no role for congress today? >> there's always a role for congress. look at the way the refugee laws work. this is very similar to what we passed a year ago after the paris shooting. we just want to make sure that it's very clear, that people understand what this is and is not and that on a going forward basis that it's executed and implemented so we can have a good settlement and refugee program and make sure we don't have people infiltrating the
refugee camps. >> you have a lot of military experts that this is going to serve as a recruiting tool for isis. >> i think the rhetoric surrounding this could be used as a recruiting tool. remember, these countries were named by the obama administration. these countries were named in legislation that we talked about last year. so these countries were named by the obama administration and there is an issue with respect to terrorists trying to infiltrate a refugee population. we're not here to debate, we're here to answer your questions. there is nothing wrong with taking a pause and making sure we have the proper vetting standards in place so we do not have a problem like france had with paris. >> reporter: [ inaudible ]. >> congressional staffers help the administration all of the
time. i'll refer you to the judiciary committee on the specific aspects. chairman goodlett walked our members through how this worked. i would refer you to him. >> reporter: mr. speaker, when you talk about the role of congress, these are temporary members. do you plan to pass any measures or reports that the trump administration is looking at further limits and [ inaudible ]. some of the members said -- >> pretty much at the time it was being issued. i don't know exactly specifically. we were briefed on the contents of it as it was being rolled out. and then i had a very good conversation with secretary kelly to make sure that we separate fact from myth that, we make sure that the confusion gets cleared up very quickly. clearly none of us want to see people with green card get implicated with this and that's not the goal here.
that's important on a go-forward basis. and we have to secure our border. we have a border security problem. we have security concerns given this age of terrorism, given the fact that we have drugs coming across our border, we have an opioid problem. there are lots of reasons why our focus first is on border security. >> that was paul ryan, pressed repeatedly as you heard about that controversial immigration executive action taken by president trump late on friday. the house speaker calling the roll-out confusion regrettable, in his words, but expressing confidence in the department of homeland security chief kelly. overall he emphasized the importance of protecting national security.
i want to go down to kelly o'donnell. first you have some breaking news on committee votes that have been delayed. what can you tell us about this apparent boycott? >> this is one of those days we could take a google earth picture of where all the news is breaking out. paul ryan was just speaking and the hearing on jeff sessions and now we have new news related to steve enoumnuchin. the democrats have come out and said they are boycotting the markup hearings. that is a very serious move. that means the nominations are stalled and the reason they contend that in both cases of steve mnuchin and tom price, that they have not been fully truthful with the committee, which of course is a requirement
of being a nominee appearing before these hearings. they take an oath. so at this stage they want to spack to these nomination again, they want to speak to the develop vant company where there are report he greceived preference treatment. but the senator of michigan, a democrat, said in other administrations, situations with less on the table as far as questions about any nominee have resulted in withdrawal. so raising the specter of could these findings and concerns by democrats in some way lead to the withdrawal or demise of these nominations we've talked a lot about how republicans have
the advantage with numbers. we're seeing political pressure about two of trump's nominees. health and human services would be in charge of revamping obamacare and mnuchin, treasury, a huge job. here is senator brown of ohio. >> we're not going to this committee today because we want the committee to regroup, get the information, have these two nominees come back in front of the committee, clarify what they lied about, i would hope they'd apoll i jazz for that and then give us the. >> and so using the word "lie", that is certainly ratcheting things up here on capitol hill. hallie, you must have a quorum to move forward. we're into the language of capitol hill. the democrats' boycott is enough to put the brakes on the
nominations until they can work this out. >> before i let you go back and do more reporting. how unusual or unexpected is this? is it really just a political stunt or do you see it havingful out there has been, having covered other confirmation periods, there have been times where nominees have with said in many ways how all things trump these issues are the kind of thing that senators who have an advise,they feel nominees have not been fully truthful, have not given forthcoming, they want to get to the bottom of that. it will be but democrats do have some power in this and weary
exercised now. we may look back and see this is a moment where things turned or they may resolve it. but the pressure has been turned up in way that ne can do that. >> given all the drama we've seen from the attorney general's position, the hearing for him, it seems as though sally jats. >> it's been that kind of pace in the first dozen days of the trump administration. very much the case with the abrupt firing of sally yates, who this committee had personally been involved with confirming those who had about on so that has changed things. now, we do expect that the sessions hearing will be a bit more matter of fact in the sense that we are told to expect a
party line vote. so more republicans will support him, a sufficient number will support him and democrats will not back him. that is not news. they've been foreshadowing that and some issuing statements saying they would not oppose him. but this hearing gives a and the willingness of a nominee to stand up to the president, to stand up for the constitution and take the kind of stand that she did, and of course there's a disagreement so it's a realtime news of the day, that's not how it always plays out but it sure is now. hallie? >> i want to go to our justice correspondent pete williams. we have jeff sessions and you
have the supreme court nominee tonight. take your pick. what do you see coming out as a headline tonight. >> obviously sessions is going to be approved on this committee vote. and in terms of the big news today, it will be the president's nomination for the supreme court. that will have a much more lasting impact because whoever he chooses, it's either going to be 49-year-old neil gorsuch, or 51-year-old tom hardiman. either of them are young and in goode health and will be able to serve for years. the trump impact would be if
they get another vacancy. that could mack a dns we're told it's really between gosuch and hardiman. people have told us both ways. we're just not confident we know what it is. the administration is successful in keeping they very closely held. >> pete williams, we'll check back in with you for later more reporting. we are going to take a break here on msnbc after the next three minutes. stick around. here?
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nomination of jeff sessions for attorney general. it looks like he will end up as the next attorney general of the u.s. the question is just about when. there are several other hearings, including for ryan zinke. >> we're joined by republican strategist hogan gidley. corine, let me start with you. we just learned from kelly o'donnell there will be a boycott from democrats on the hearings for stephen mnuchin, to lead hhs and to lead the treasury department that.
>> this is not beusiness as usul here and they can't behave as if it is. i think they're doing exactly the right thing. what we saw this weekend, the organic protest, tens of thousands of people across the country pushing back on a very cruel, immoral, unconstitutional executive order that was put out there by the president and you have to -- they have to be where the people are. you know, they have to i think this is exactly what democrats need to be doing and more power to them. >> when you looking at what happened with sally yates and that acting attorney general position when can you look at, for example, the controversy rounding that immigration order, dozensin signed the state department are willing to issue
this dissent cable slamming that. is there into room for disagreement inside the trump administration? is that a healthy way to run a white house? >> i think it's good -- >> but is he doing that? >> absolutely. this president, he's a different president. to try and ascribe regular washington, d.c. norms and historical norms to this president, i think it's faulty on the part of the press and quite frankly a little bit ignorant because this election was about change, it's what people voted for widely, to the union of 77-odd percent, people wanted a new face and they also voted fight twice, the shoe
bomber, the underwear bomber, all these folks fell through the cracks in immigration and we have a president who said enough, i told you i want to stop it. this is just a temporary make sure they're coming here to live here peace flil be a. >> the protester, those are the images that were just on our screen. corine, we heard from former president barack obama issuing that statement, what, 11 days into the trump administration after saying he would use for the president to -- former president to weigh in? is it too early and it was too tepid? >> no, absolutely not.
if president think president obama is going to sit back and watch him undermine the bedrock of our country, they can't understand how dangerous -- >> so he's not -- >> say that one more time? >> he won't be like a george w. bush, staying on the sidelines? >> president obama left with 60% approval rating. george w. bush did not have that luxury. he was in low 20s when he left. >> hallie, you just said it took 11 days for barack obama to comment. i'm not surprised at all had he's an activist by trade, a community organizer. his disdain for the political process is well documented by republicans and democrats.
president obama was vehemently opposed of donald trump. the problem was he lost and it didn't help hillary clinton whatsoever. so he runs the risk of becoming illegitimate if he continues to do this in the face of donald trump. if donald trump wins victories, then barack obama could be more insignificant than the executive orders that are now gone in his administration. >> i think we have to leave it there and bring in briefly -- very quickly, corine. >> i think my friend hogan needs to understand that donald trump did not win the popular vote. if anything 10 million people voted against him and not for him. he only got 25% of the eligible voters that voted. so this is about the peep. if you look what's. >> last word to corine this time. hogan, you'll get it next time. i want to go to brad blakeman, you have been inside the west wing.
at moments like this, moments where there is intense scrutiny you heard paul ryan say here at the capitol that he thought the roll-out of this new executive how troubling is that too you that peek lime the chekt did not seem to be that is for sure the president should have signed the executive order that short le department is going to hold a briefing and tell you exactly what this order means and what it means to but the policy is right. the policy is that are troubling and unless we can vet these people to a high degree of certainty as to what their intent is in coming to america
and a moratorium is correct. the follow-up to the order, but we need it and it's up to congress to view it from. >> if president bush but he said let not it will. >> well, look, again presidents have been it's a business of need to know oppose post to and it's really up to the president to determine his governing style and u to learn a lot more about not only his duties but what is needed for america. nobody can deny he's an action-oriented president. nobody is denying as far as the
republicans are concerned his right do it and the need to do it. the question is could he have done it better in the rollout? obviously the answer is yes. >> you mention the there's been a lot of discussion now, bannon a full unof the headlines in the piece was to the "bannon. what's your pin on the role bannon has taken in the west ring. >> he is the equivalent of -- she has too much power, she's in too many meetings, she has too big a pore tollio. about then some may imagine he's capable or even giving him that kind of power. but as long as the president is
comfortable with it, that's all that matters. >> thank you for that perspective. i'm going to bring you back to senator amy klobuchar. >> as you know, senators can talk for a while. we're all taking our time kret based on positions at votings rights, based on he was the most ardent opponents to the our concern is that we do not want a justice department that is not independent and he pledged in the hearing to be independent, but here you have now the fact because a attorney general who
was well respected was removed from the white house. >> the meantime we've been watching the hearings of steve mnuchin and tom rice and now there's a boycott of those hearings. isn't that just on the democrat side political theet sfer. >> i don't think so at all. i think you have serious concerns about information that they haven't received, that is a wheel different ball of wax where senator sessions, if though we may not agree with him, well known, completed all his forms, there weren't questions about his real estate holdings and not reporting $100 million of assets, things like that. so i think they have somer issues with those nominees. >> do you support what they're doing? >> i was not --
>> you mentioned the abrupt dismissal of sally yates. the president does have the legal right to do something like that. >>'s two things i would do. number one, if they consulted with her in depth about this order, which by all can't they hadn't even consulted, they wouldn't have been in this situation. she betrayed our country when she spent 30 years in a nonpartisan position through. she's been a leader in human trafficking, she was put in place by two senators from the state of georgia. none of that makes sense to me
if you've your honor. >> am i misreading correctly? do you believe there are undertones of sexism? >> no. i just think he's vilifying her in a way she betrayed the question. she happens to be a woman dedon't want to talk about the supreme court where the announce will our neal gosuch and thomas hardiman. >> would you swot either of them? >> we haven't lbd splp -- as members of. judiciary committee, we have a constitutional duty to advise and consent and really examine records and take very seriously, decisions of the property affect
everyone. look at some of the cases in the last few years, whether it's immigration cases and environmental case, whether it's citizens united, which has wreaked havoc on our election system. so that's the first thing. as for the nominees themselves, i believe we should have hearing, unlike what the republicans did last year. but what i do believe, i think it's a 60-vote threshold. while we went to 60 on the nominee justice, we did not for the supreme court. >> some of your colleagues have come out and said in effect they will oppose maefr the case will i like to see a nominee and hear for them. but the 60-vote threshold is key. >> is there any situation in --
>> again, i don't do hypotheticals. i was a former prosecutor. i believe you look at the evidence thiss are f. >> i don't even want to cross that bridge. if they do that, they're going to chak the rules of the senate. i would hope they would not do that. >> the question of the president executive order, obvious controversial. chuck schumer, withone of your colleagues was also there and the president what interesting comments about senator schumer, calling them the fake tears of chuck schumer. it's not crooked hillary or lyin' ted -- >> i do know chuck schumer and he does should tears.
>> so no acting. >> no way. >> i heard about a case this morning, the mom was able to get legal permission after years to come to our country with two daughters. she was pregnant at the time so she couldn't apply for the third. she had the baby, it had to be left in the refugee camp. she it finally gotten permission to bring the child, who is now 4, that child is now stuck in uganda because of the executive order. that child is stuck in uganda. >> that does it for us this hour. we are going to toss it over now to a quick break and we'll be back. thankorder.
live with my colleague tamron hall in new york. >> thank you very much. speaker of the house paul ryan and republicans leaders are taking heat on president trump's decision to fire the acting attorney general. president trump said sally yates, quote, betrayed the justice department. and jeff sessions is facing a senate committee vote right now. plus lawsuit filed. washington state becomes the first state to sue president trump over that immigration ban. i'll talk live with the washington state attorney general who argues the executive order is hurting populations and the economy. i'm tamron hall