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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – It was fireworks on Capitol Hill as lawmakers grilled President-Elect Donald Trump’s pick for Attorney General – Senator Jeff Sessions.
The Alabama Republican vowed at his confirmation hearing Tuesday to stay independent from the White House and stand up to Trump when necessary. Sessions asserted that an attorney general must be prepared to resign if asked to do something “unlawful or unconstitutional.”
Sessions testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing and defended past racial allegations against him.
Sessions laid out a sharply conservative vision for the Justice Department he would oversee, pledging to crack down on illegal immigration, gun violence and the “scourge of radical Islamic terrorism” and to keep open the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
But he also distanced himself from some of Trump’s public pronouncements.
He said waterboarding, a now-banned harsh interrogation technique that Trump has at times expressed support for, was “absolutely improper and illegal.”
Protestors tried their best to disrupt Senator Jeff Sessions’ testimony during his confirmation hearing for Attorney General but the Alabama Senator was not shaken.
His Senate colleagues grilled him on several topics from immigration, his civil rights record and racist comments he allegedly made in the 1980s while he was a federal prosecutor.
“I am totally committed to maintaining freedom and equality for everyone in this country,” said Sessions.
Sessions also announced he would recuse himself from any investigation of Hillary Clinton.
“This country does not punish its political enemies. What this country ensures no one is above the law,” said Sessions.
Senator Sessions said he would follow past Supreme Court decisions on abortion and marriage equality despite being an outspoken critic on both issues.
“The majority of the court, has established the definition of marriage for the entire United States of America and I will follow that decision,” said Sessions.
Republican Senator Graham asked if he supported Trump’s campaign promise on religious tests.
Sen. Lindsey Graham asked, “Would you support a law that you can’t come to America because you’re a Muslim?”
“No,” responded Sessions.
Senator Sessions also said he would protect women seeking legal abortion and disavowed the endorsement of an anti-abortion group – Operation Rescue.
Sessions, known as one of the most staunchly conservative members of the Senate, has solid support from the Senate’s Republican majority and from some Democrats in conservative-leaning states.
But he faces a challenge persuading skeptical Democrats that he’ll be fair and committed to civil rights, a chief priority of the Justice Department during the Obama administration, as the country’s top law enforcement official.
Senator Sessions’ nomination has also received strong opposition from Senate colleagues, Sherrod Brown and Cory Booker. In an unprecedented move for a Senator, Booker was set to testify against Sen. Sessions’ nomination.
As for President-elect Trump, he plans on holding a press conference in New York on Wednesday. It will be his first since last July.