Democrats are calling on Sen. Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from voting on confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump's administration while he is waiting on his own possible confirmation to the Trump Cabinet.
The Alabama Republican is Trump's choice for attorney general and Democrats say he should not vote on Cabinet officials that he would be overseeing as attorney general, Politico reports.
"There is at the very least an appearance of conflict of interest since he owes his job as attorney general to the same boss who has nominated these other Cabinet nominees," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Monday, according to Politico.
"The attorney general has to be an independent voice and prosecutor. He may be called upon to investigate, perhaps represent them in court. He ought to be strictly impartial."
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., agreed: "Given that Sen. Sessions endorsed President-elect Trump, campaigned vigorously and nationally, and presents as probably the most Cabinet nominee most closely aligned with President-elect Trump… and given the number of ethical concerns that have already been raised about the Trump Cabinet, I think it would reflect well on both Sen. Sessions and the Trump administration were he to recuse himself."
Sessions has said he would recuse from voting on his own confirmation, Politico reports.
"I have not thoroughly examined all the issues, but I think there could be a conflict of interest or a violation of ethics rules and I would comply with the rules," he said at his confirmation hearing last week.
For Democrats, a Sessions vote would lead to an ethics complaint. If Sessions abstains, that would remove one reliable Republican vote from the confirmation of nominees such as Rex Tillerson, Trump's choice for secretary of state.
"My view is, as long as he hadn't been confirmed… he's still a U.S. senator with all the rights and privileges that pertain to that. But that's a personal choice he'll have to make," said Rep. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., agreed with Cornyn and told Politico: "Why wouldn't he? He is still the senator from Alabama."
The Judiciary Committee rules call for Sessions to wait longer than other Cabinet picks for his nomination to come up for a vote, Politico reports. His confirmation is set for Jan. 24.
Senate Republicans are aiming for confirmation votes on other nominees before then, including John Kelly for Homeland Security secretary, Elaine Chao for Transportation secretary, retired Gen. James Mattis for Defense secretary and Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo for CIA director.
Information from the Senate Historical Office said that no sitting senator nominated for a Cabinet spot has participated in a roll-call vote for another Cabinet nomination. The closest instance came in 2012 when then-Sen. John Kerry was nominated as secretary of state in 2012. Two other nominations for lower-level positions came up, and Kerry did not place votes for either one.
Ethics experts said that Sessions, in his ethics filings ahead of his confirmation hearings, failed to disclose his oil interests in Alabama, according to The Washington Post.
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