capitol longshotWritten by Don Byrd

[UPDATE 1/10: in hearings today, Senator Sessions was asked about his beliefs regarding a ban on Muslim immigration. He stated “I have no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims as a religious group should be denied admission to the United States.” In questioning from Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sessions said he would not support a law “that says you can’t come to America because you’re a Muslim.”]

As President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration nears, the U.S. Senate is preparing to hold hearings and provide quick confirmation to several cabinet nominees. For some advocates, the process is moving a little too quickly. In a letter issued Friday, Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, expressed concern that the current confirmation schedule, which includes five hearings planned for Wednesday, is proceeding too quickly for an ethics review to be completed in time.

Attorney General nominee Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is slated for 2 days of hearings, but that may not be time enough to address all of the issues the American people should want to know before he is confirmed, including his views on important church-state questions. 

In a column for The Hill, co-writers Rev. Jennifer Butler (chair of the White House Council on Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships) and Rev. John L. McCullough (formerly on the White House Task Force on Global Poverty and Development) argue forcefully that senators should ask Sen. Sessions about his views regarding religious liberty for all. They say that not only does Sen. Sessions have his own past statements and associations to defend on that front, but the Trump campaign offered troubling policy proposals (the status of which are somewhat unknown).

Don’t the American people deserve to know the direction of the administration on such key issues of founding principle?

Here is an excerpt from their column:

Senators must ask Sessions if he endorses the idea that America is at war with Islam or if he agrees with the words of our past two presidents which uphold our American ideals. Sessions record points towards concern. He called Islam a “toxic ideology” in an interview with the American Thinker in June.  

As a top surrogate and advisor to the president-elect, Senator Sessions has supported the concept of a “Muslim ban.”  Senators on both sides of the aisle have raised questions about not just the constitutionality of such a ban, but whether it undermines our values as a nation.

Religious freedom questions have plagued the president-elect throughout his campaign, including whether he would establish some type of “Muslim registry” for foreigners residing within the United States.

Many of the Trump administration’s policies as they relate to religious freedom have yet to be outlined or detailed. Senator Sessions’ confirmation hearings present the Judiciary Committee with its “first opportunity to question the direction of the administration and ask tough questions about policies floated during the campaign.

And that goes not only for Sen. Sessions, but for other cabinet nominees as well. A timely confirmation should not come at the expense of disclosure to the public regarding the views of incoming administration officials.

I will be watching this week, hoping that senators are given the time to ask important questions and use their time wisely to ask the questions that matter. For a would-be Attorney General, that surely includes questions about views on a “Muslim ban,” “Muslim registry,” and religious profiling.

Stay tuned.