WASHINGTON: Democratic senators voted against US President Donald Trump’s nominee for the attorney general on Tuesday, hours after he sacked acting Attorney General Sally Yates for instructing the Justice Department not to defend the refugee ban.
Late on Monday, the Trump administration also removed the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but didn’t offer any explanation for the move. A brief announcement, via Twitter, said that Daniel Ragsdale was returning to his previous position as deputy director.
Earlier on Tuesday, Democratic senators boycotted votes in the Senate Finance Committee on Mr Trump’s picks for treasury and health secretaries.
Not a single Democratic senator on the committee showed up for the votes in the 26-person panel with 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats. The committee needed at least one Democrat to be in attendance for the vote to proceed.
On Monday night, hundreds of people protested outside the US Supreme Court against President Trump’s decision to impose a 90-day ban on visitors from seven Muslim countries and for suspending a refugee programme. The crowd, which was chanting “no hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here”, was further galvanised when the media reported that Mr Trump had sacked the acting attorney general for refusing to implement his executive orders banning Muslim visitors and refugees.
While protesters were still at the Supreme Court, the White House released a statement, saying President Trump was appointing another lawyer, Dana Boente, as the new acting attorney general.
“The acting Attorney General Sally Yates has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States,” the White House said.
Insisting that now was the time to get serious about protecting the country by tightening immigration, the White House said: “Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.”
The statement included a quote from Mr Boente, saying: “I am honoured to serve President Trump in this role until Senator Sessions is confirmed [as attorney general]. I will defend and enforce the laws of our country to ensure that our people and our nation are protected.”
At the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic senators condemned the ban on Muslim states and also refused to endorse the nominee, Senator Sessions, claiming that he had helped shape the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration stance.
The senator is expected to be confirmed as attorney general on a strict party-line vote as Republicans have a majority in the committee. Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who heads the Senate committee, opened the voting session with an assurance to the lawmakers that Mr Sessions played no role in the president’s controversial executive actions. Democrats, however, did not agree with him.
On Tuesday, three top members of the Trump cabinet — Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson — said they were not aware of details of the directive sacking the acting attorney general before President Trump signed it.
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters that despite White House assurances that congressional leaders were consulted, he learned about the order from the media.
Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2017