Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) argued forcefully over Franken’s portrayal of Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) civil rights record before he was ultimately confirmed by committee Wednesday morning in a party-line vote.
Franken’s focus was a Senate Judiciary Comitteee questionnaire that Sessions, up for U.S. attorney general, filled out claiming to have had “personal” involvement in four civil rights cases.
The lawyers who handled the bulk of three of those cases have said Sessions was not involved. Franken had focused on those cases in Sessions’ confirmation hearing last month and highlighted one of the attorneys who pointed out the discrepancies, Jerry Hebert, who’d worked for decades in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division.
At that hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) argued that Franken had tried to “undermine [Sessions’] character and integrity” because Hebert had, in Cruz’s words, “testified falsely” against Sessions from 1986, when Sessions undertook a failed bid for a federal judgeship. In fact, Franken pointed out Wednesday, Herbert had corrected a simple mistake in his testimony.
“That’s what happened. Those are the facts,” Franken said. “But when describing this history, Sen. Cruz misrepresented what happened. So I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.”
At that point, Franken was interrupted by Cornyn, who accused him of “disparaging” Cruz while the Texas senator was absent. Franken countered that was exactly what Cruz had done to him last month.
Cornyn interrupted Franken again later: “Mr. Chairman, I object again. The senator apparently get the message from the chairman that this is—“
“I think the senator from Texas doesn’t get the message from the chairman,” Franken shot back.
For a confirmation vote for a fellow senator, especially, it was an unusually bitter exchange. Franken continued on the point, eventually moving on in his lengthy remarks opposing Sessions’ nomination.
Cruz arrived in time for the vote, which fell along party lines.
Watch the exchange below, cia CSPAN:
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 1, 2017