When Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was rejected as Ronald Reagan’s nominee for a federal judgeship by the Republican-led US Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986, moderate Republicans cast the essential “no” votes.
All eight Democrats on the committee rejected Sessions—whose nomination was opposed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League, the American Jewish Congress, the National Council of Churches, and the 185 coalition members of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. They were joined by two Republicans, Charles Mathias Jr. of Maryland and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, in refusing to recommend approval of the nomination. And Mathias joined the Democrats in effectively blocking the further progress of the Sessions nomination by voting against sending the nomination to the Senate floor without a recommendation.
Thirty years ago, moderate Republicans upheld the basic standards to which presidential nominees must be held. But not anymore. So-called “moderate” Republican Susan Collins abandoned that standard on Tuesday and championed President Trump’s nomination of Sessions to serve as attorney general of the United States.
Because of some past breaks with party orthodoxy, particularly on social issues, Maine’s Senator Collins is still imagined by casual observers of the Senate to be a “moderate Republican.” It’s an image that Collins has fostered over the years, as she has sought to retain a Senate seat representing a New England state that regularly backs Democrats for the presidency.
This false yet lingering impression that Collins is a “moderate” made her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee one of the major moments of the first day of hearings on the Sessions nomination. Collins was portrayed in media reports as an “unlikely ally” of her fellow senator. In fact, she appeared before the committee as an ardent partisan, supporting a Republican president-elect’s most controversial Cabinet pick—and doing her best to dismiss credible criticisms of the nominee.
Even as civil-rights and women’s-rights protesters were removed from the committee room, Collins reimagined the fiercely conservative Sessions—whose nomination is opposed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Organization for Women—as an ally of racial reconciliation, inclusiveness and bipartisan compromise. Those who oppose Sessions just don’t know him, argued Collins, who said she wanted the committee to accept the Alabama politician as a “genuine, fair-minded person.”