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Sessions Vote Delayed as Four Trump Nominees Clear Committees

by Alexandra Jaffe /
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions testifies at his confirmation hearing to be the Trump administration's Attorney General in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 10.Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

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Democrats succeeded in delaying a vote on one of President Donald Trump's key cabinet picks Tuesday, demanding more time to review Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions' record.

But four of his other nominees moved closer to confirmation Tuesday when they were easily voted out of committee and sent for a full vote of the Senate.

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California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein requested that a Judiciary Committee vote on Sessions be delayed until next week so Democrats could review nearly 200 pages of answers to additional questions they received from Sessions on Sunday.

"Our staff needs time to go through these answers, and we need time to put them in context with what we know and what we’ve learned about Senator Sessions’ record," she said.

She said some members may have follow-up questions in response to the new details, and added that "it’s important to reflect on this nomination in light of the demonstration we saw this weekend," noting the hundreds of thousands of Trump administration critics that turned out for the Women's March in Washington and around the globe this weekend.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley approved the request.

The delay gives more time for Democrats to raise issues with one of Trump's most controversial nominees, who drew some of the sharpest questioning during his hearing before the Judiciary Committee. Democrats believe his record on civil rights and immigration issues disqualifies him for the job, and have focused in particular on a controversy that derailed his 1986 nomination to a federal judgeship: Allegations from his former colleagues that he made racially insensitive comments. Sessions denied the remarks under oath at the time, and was backed up by other colleagues who signed affidavits saying they didn't hear the comments in question.

Still, he's ultimately expected to win confirmation with mostly Republican support when his nomination makes it to a full Senate vote.

Committee votes on two other Trump nominees -- Rick Perry for Energy Secretary and Ryan Zinke for Interior Secretary -- were also delayed Monday night. Three of Trump's nominees have been confirmed and sworn in -- Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

But even with those delays, four of the president's nominees won easy passage out of their respective committees: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for Ambassador to the UN; Elaine Chao for Transportation Secretary; Ben Carson for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and businessman Wilbur Ross for Commerce Secretary.

Democrats attempted to land some punches on Ross over his significant personal wealth, holding him up as evidence of Trump's hypocrisy in making a populist pitch to voters while naming billionaires to his cabinet, but he overall had a relatively uneventful hearing.

While retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, up for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, faced pointed questioning from Democrats over his inexperience in the field and his criticism of public assistance programs, he easily passed out of committee as well.

It’s all but certain they’ll receive final confirmation there, in large part due to Democrats’ own move in 2013 to eliminate the filibuster for Cabinet-level appointees, lowering the threshold of votes needed for passage to just 51. Republicans hold a 52-seat majority in the Senate.

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