By Jane Kennedy
Led by Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond(D-La.), Monday’s conference was initially called to express the lawmakers’ objections to the pending confirmation of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s controversial pick to head the U.S. Department of Justice. Sessions has been under fire for his previous stances on civil rights and racial issues. The Tri-Caucus is comprised of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC).
However, moments before the afternoon press conference began, Vice President Mike Pence cast a history making, tie-breaker vote to confirm another one of President Trump’s most contentious nominees – incoming Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
DeVos, a Michigan billionaire, faced fire from teachers unions and public education advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle primarily because of what many considered to be a shocking lack of qualifications to serve at the helm of the Education Department and her advocacy of anti-public school policies. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) voted against her nomination, forcing the vice president to break a tie for a cabinet confirmation for the first time ever.
“It’s unprecedented that a vice president has had to help confirm a nominee for secretary of Education. I expect that Mrs. DeVos will have an incredibly harmful impact on public education and on Black communities nationwide,” Richmond said. “The Congressional Black Caucus will be watching her actions very closely and if she proves to be as extreme as advertised, we will fight her every step of the way.”
The Louisiana lawmaker had equally harsh words for Sessions, whose confirmation unlike DeVos’, is expected to win unanimous Republican support. Echoing sentiments expressed when he testified at one of Sessions’ confirmation hearings, Richmond declared that the Alabama senator is not a friend of Lady Justice or of communities of color.
Sessions was famously denied a federal judgeship in 1986 when the very chamber he now serves failed to clear him through committee because of accusations of racism. According to the CBC’s Richmond and the chairs of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, little if anything has changed about Sessions’ views on race and he cannot be counted on to provide equal justice for all.
In his remarks Richmond noted the Alabama lawmaker’s disdain for the Black Lives Matter movement and his publically stated belief that consent decrees, such as the one received by the Ferguson, Missouri, police department to provide citizens relief from civil rights violations, are a ‘dangerous exercise of raw power.’ Richmond also questioned whether he can be relied upon to enforce and protect voting rights for all Americans.
“Those are just some of the issues that we have with Sen. Sessions and his record and no matter how much time has passed, history has not changed and his actions have not changed,” Richmond said.
Democrats are both flummoxed and frustrated by many of Trump’s cabinet picks, some of whom, like Sessions, have records that are seemingly contrary to the mission of the agencies they’ve been chosen to lead, or who like DeVos, are also woefully unfamiliar with their agency’s key issues, policies and laws. The latter, said California Rep. Barbara Lee, “is just another example of the Trump administration not understanding that we’re a country of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
So, they also are preparing themselves to go to battle against any attempts to go backward and to forcefully challenge controversial and discriminatory proposals in committee rooms.
Confirmation, Richmond warned, does not end the fight.
“We’ve been through fights our entire career and we will use our positions on our various committees, our role as oversight, our role as appropriators and everything else to make sure that we hold this administration accountable. And one thing we will do is make sure that there’s daylight and transparency and that we call out the things that are done in the dark and done with discriminatory purpose,” he said. “And, we’re going to make sure that we hold this administration to the standard of the presidency and make sure that they understand that the role of president is that you’re president for all of America.”