There’s an episode of Star Trek where Edith Keeler tells Captain Kirk, “A lie is a poor way to say hello.” Whether Chuck Grassley opened Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing with a lie or just an inexplicable mistake, he chose a poor way to open the hearing, and it set the tone for the rest of the hearing.
Grassley stunned everyone when he said in his opening remarks:
Perhaps my good friend Senator Schumer said it best when he observed that we should, quote, “move to a vote hopefully sooner rather than later,” end of quote. And when we do as he said, we, quote, “won’t be voting for or against the president’s policies. We’ll be voting” — or in summary, Senator Schumer said “we’ll be voting for a colleague with a first-rate legal mind, whose record proves his commitment to just law enforcement and eminently qualified to lead the Department of Justice.”
What a bombshell the chairman dropped: such praise and support for Sessions coming from the Democratic leader. The feeling in the hearing room suddenly changed. Grassley had just reframed the entire day’s testimony, shocking Democratic senators, people in the hearing room, everyone.
The only thing is … Those weren’t Schumer’s words; they were Grassley’s. His prepared remarks show what the chairman originally intended to say, although even that suggests to anyone listening (rather than reading, where you see the quotation marks) that the supportive statement comes from Schumer, not Grassley.
Perhaps my good friend Senator Schumer said it best [in relation to Eric Holder’s 2009 nomination] when he observed that we should “move to a vote, hopefully sooner rather than later.” And when we do, as he said, we “won’t be voting for or against the President’s policies.” Instead, we’ll be voting for a colleague with a first-rate legal mind whose record proves his commitment to just law enforcement and eminently qualifies him to lead the Department of Justice.
So even without the verbal slip of “Schumer said,” Grassley’s statement would have implied to listeners that Sessions had the support of the Minority Leader.
It was “a poor way to say hello” to everyone throughout the country who wanted an honest chance to evaluate Jeff Sessions’ qualifications to be our nation’s attorney general.
But it was par for the course coming from a chairman who limited the hearing to only two days, and who scheduled it even before Sessions had filed a complete response to the committee questionnaire. (His initial submission was woefully incomplete and his second was still inadequate.) Democratic senators asked for sufficient time to review the voluminous filings, much of it submitted late. However, Grassley gave them the back of his hand.
But Grassley didn’t limit the back of his hand to Democrats on the committee; he treated a fellow senator and two House members with a disrespect that was surprising even in the partisan environment of Congress. Sen. Corey Booker sought to testify on the second day, as did Reps. John Lewis and Cedric Richmond (who leads the Congressional Black Caucus). Grassley granted the Democrats’ request, but he departed sharply from the tradition that members of Congress testifying before a committee are given the respect of having their own panel and that their panel comes immediately after the nominee completes his testimony. Grassley showed no such respect for his three African American colleagues, making them part of a panel also including non-congressional witnesses. Sending them “to the back of the conference table” was not Grassley’s finest hour.
The question of who serves as the nation’s attorney general is of the utmost importance, worthy of deep and respectful consideration. Americans deserve better than the display Grassley put on.