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Morning Reads: Civil Rights Leaders to Confront Sessions, Obama Says We Must Be “Anxious, Jealous Guardians of Democracy”

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Morning Reads: Civil Rights Leaders to Confront Sessions

US President Barack Obama speaks during his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017 (Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

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Day one of confirmation speed dating –> “Marathon and surreal” is how MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow described the first day of Senate confirmation hearings for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination as Donald Trump’s attorney general. In truth, it was an apt description of the entire news day.

The questioning of Sessions went on for more than nine hours Tuesday and was marked by occasionally pointed questions and repeated protests from spectators in the hearing room. Amy Davidson at The New Yorker writes, “Sessions was given credit, in the coverage of the hearing, for acknowledging that he believed waterboarding was illegal — at least presently — as it clearly is. Indeed, one of the main exercises in the hearing involved Democrats asking Sessions if he would obey the law, even if he disagreed with it, and Sessions taking the opportunity to say that he would, indeed, not behave like a criminal. The standards, these days, may simply not be so high.”

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken was one of the toughest interrogators, Josh Israel at ThinkProgress reported, asking Sessions “about a questionnaire he had filed with the Judiciary Committee, in which he had been asked to identify the 10 ‘most significant litigated matters which you personally handled.’ Four of those cases were voting rights and desegregation cases. But the three attorneys who actually oversaw those cases said in a Washington Post op-ed last week that Sessions played little to no role in any of those cases.”

Sessions’ civil rights record presumably will come under closer scrutiny today when testimony against his confirmation comes from Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who as a young activist was brutally beaten on the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). What’s more, last night The Washington Post published a 1986 letter written by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., opposing the nomination of Sessions to a federal judgeship because of his actions prosecuting civil rights leaders in a voting fraud case. “The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished 20 years ago with clubs and cattle prods,” she wrote, and added, “I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made toward fulfilling my husband’s dream.”

Meanwhile, in a separate hearing room, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly had an easier time fielding softball questions about his qualifications to be the next secretary of homeland security. Fred Kaplan at Slate writes, “Kelly received no questions about any of his more controversial positions — his opposition to transferring detainees at Guantánamo Bay to high-security prisons in the United States (even though more than 300 violent terrorists are currently in those prisons), his warnings of terrorists coming into the country from the southern borders (with no evidence), and his estimate that more than 100,000 people in the Western Hemisphere may have died as a result of terrorism since 9/11 (when official estimates put the number at roughly 1,000).”

Trump and the latest Russian spy bombshell –> Both Sessions and Kelly were questioned about Russia’s alleged interference in the presidential election as CNN broke the story that “Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN… The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.”

This morning, the president-elect is scheduled to hold his first press conference in more than six months at 11 a.m. ET.

Big biz tells Trump to uphold Paris climate pact –> Ian Johnston at The Independent: “More than 630 companies and investors have called on Donald Trump and the Republican-dominated Congress to continue the move to a low-carbon economy, warning that failing to do so would ‘put American prosperity at risk…’ The US President-elect has talked about scrapping the United States’ international commitments to tackle global warming, such as the Paris Agreement, dismissed climate change as a hoax, and appointed a string of climate science deniers to senior positions in his administration…

“In a joint statement, leading companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, General Mills, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Unilever, appealed to Mr Trump to reconsider his apparent views.”

Goodbye, farewell and amen –> President Obama made his official farewell address before a crowd of 20,000 in Chicago last night. As Matt Shuham at Talking Points Memo reports, the soon-to-be-former chief executive told his audience that we all must be “anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy…

“If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle-class and an undeserving minority then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves… Democracy can buckle when it gives in to fear. So just as we as citizens must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans who are just as patriotic as we are.”

In the understatement of the night, James West and Jaelynn Grisso of Mother Jones noted, “The speech capped a turbulent day in the political life of the country.”

Morning Reads was compiled by Michael Winship and edited by Karin Kamp. See a story that you think should be included in Morning Reads? Tell us in the comments!



We produce this news digest every weekday. You can sign up to receive these updates as an email newsletter each morning.