WASHINGTON ― Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said Wednesday that he fears President-elect Donald Trump’s attorney general pick will roll back civil rights.
Speaking at Sen Jeff Sessions’ (R-Ala.) confirmation hearing, Lewis said that there are people who want to take back some of the gains of the civil rights movements he fought so hard for, and that Sessions wouldn’t stop them.
Lewis mostly skipped over talking about the senator’s record ― which was dissected over the course of the two-day hearing on Tuesday and Wednesday ― and focused on his concerns that Sessions won’t look out for all Americans.
“It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you,” Lewis said. “But we need someone who is going to stand up, speak up and speak out for the people that need help, for people who have been discriminated against. And it doesn’t matter whether they’re black or white, Latino American, Asian American or Native American; whether they’re straight or gay; Muslim, Christian or Jews.”
“We all live in the same house,” he continued. “The American house. We need someone as attorney general who is going to look out for all of us and not just for some of us.”
Lewis joined two other black Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, in criticizing Sessions during a Senate Judiciary Committee panel.
We don't want to go back. We want to go forward. Rep. John Lewis
Lewis’ testimony on civil rights was particularly potent because he was a leader of the movement in the 1960s, and suffered violence for it. He spoke in the hearing about the police brutality he and other protesters suffered during a 1965 march from Selma, Alabama, which helped pave the way for the Voting Rights Act.
“We have come a distance. We’ve made progress, but we’re not there yet,” Lewis said. “There are forces that want to take us back. ... We don’t want to go back. We want to go forward.”
Sessions’ record on civil rights has been a major topic of discussion over whether he should be confirmed to head the Justice Department. He was notably denied a federal judgeship in the 1980s over past comments on race, and has been criticized in the years since for his remarks about minorities, including immigrants and Muslims.
During his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Sessions called the Voting Rights Act “intrusive” and said he does not think voter ID laws, which disproportionately affect people of color, have a racial bias.
The Trump campaign, Sessions and his supporters ― including former colleagues and friends who are black ― have argued that categorizing him as a threat to civil rights is unfair and that he is not biased against minorities.
“I did not harbor the kind of animosity and race-based discrimination ideas I was accused of,” Sessions said on Tuesday. “I did not.”