I realize little or nothing is actually learned in confirmation hearings. The senators have already made up their minds in the vast majority of cases just as judges have before oral arguments. The actual purpose of the hearing, as with oral arguments, is to put on a persuasive show for the public, to give the appearance of open mindedness. But even on that level yesterday’s hearing for the perspective attorney general was a huge disappointment. The Republicans on the Judiciary Committee elicited nothing new or even interesting. I was hoping there might be an illuminating exchange about immigration enforcement. As everyone knows many Republicans are corporate shills and favor cheap labor. Sen. Sessions is a huge threat to their interests. They could have asked for him to detail his plans for enforcing the immigration laws at the workplace, which is now practically inert. Does he think the government should raid meatpacking plants to round up illegals, as was done in 2007? Should the executives of companies that hire illegals be prosecuted? But their silence was deafening.
The Democrats on the Committee fired rhetorical spitballs at Sen. Sessions. Dick Durbin of Illinois asked if the nominee could ever be “fair and humane” in immigration enforcement. Of course he meant fair and humane to illegal immigrants. Sen. Sessions replied that he would be fair and humane from his perspective as attorney general. They were talking past each other. Durbin sees the role of attorney general as selectively enforcing the immigration laws, not against teenagers brought here by their parents, not against those “living in the shadows” but only against hardened criminals. Sessions might have responded to him by pointing out that Donald Trump was elected by promising to enforce immigration law very differently from how it has been done in the last eight years. That means he really wants to enforce the law wholeheartedly. But that would have alienated Sen. Durbin. Yet he is not going to vote for Sen. Sessions in any case, his mind having been made up the moment he was nominated. Yet to give a truly honest answer to one of these questions would be to violate the decorum of the show. The nominee must be polite and not parry.
Senators Blumenthal and Klobucar also asked Sessions questions about immigration in general. Blumenthal wondered if an immigration hardliner can also enforce anti-discrimination laws, as if there is a contradiction between the two. That too deserved a real answer. Sessions should have asked Blumenthal for a specific case which would highlight such a conflict. Is he saying deporting people here illegally violates their civil rights? It’s an ugly insinuation. He was tacitly calling Sessions a racist. But Sessions simply denied there was a problem. I’m sure Sen. Blumenthal was not moved a bit in his opposition to the nominee. Sen. Klobucar pointed out that a lot of CEO’s are immigrants. Her point was that some immigration is beneficial. Sen. Sessions should have rebutted with a counter anecdotes: that 30% of the people arrested by federal officials last year were immigrants. Neither fact on its own tells us much more than immigration can be good or profoundly bad. It depends on the details, which none of the critics of the Senator cared to bring up.
It seems likely that Sen. Sessions will be confirmed because the confirmation hearing unfolded as it did, with spitballs, insinuations, flattery, and absolutely nothing new being revealed or learned.