A black congresswoman from Texas on Wednesday accused an African-American supporter of and former aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions of essentially being a traitor to his race, according to a source who witnessed the brief exchange.
William Smith, who was chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee for more than a decade and now serves as chief of staff for Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), was in the hearing room for the second day of Sessions’ confirmation hearing for attorney general. A source told LifeZette that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) yelled at Smith and told him he needed to look in the mirror and remember that he came from slaves.
“There is something very inconsistent about praising Sen. Sessions for aiding African-American communities … then criticizing him because he takes a different political view on another matter like immigration.”
Cate Cullen, a spokeswoman for Palmer, confirmed Lee’s statement to Smith but added that the congressman’s office had no comment.
A spokesman for Lee, an 12-term Democrat from Houston, did not return a call and email from LifeZette for comment.
It is not the first time that Smith has been targeted by liberals who oppose Sessions’ nomination because of his race. CNN contributor Angela Rye, a Democratic lawyer and political strategist, suggested on “Anderson Cooper 360” last week that the widely respected congressional staffer was a token black hire when Sessions was chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
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“Because you are the one black guy that [Sessions] hired on the committee doesn’t make him a civil rights leader, William,” she said.
Much of the opposition to Sessions stems from allegations of racial insensitivity, and the circus surrounding the hearings this week degenerated into ugly racial stereotypes at times — ironically not from the nominee accused of racism but from his critics.
MTV News culture writer Ira Madison III accused Sessions on Tuesday of using an Asian girl as a prop before the start of his hearing, tweeting, “Sessions, sir, kindly return this Asian baby to the Toys ‘R’ Us you stole her from.”
But the girl was not a prop; she is the Alabama senator’s granddaughter.
Lee and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus were at the hearing Wednesday to offer solidarity to witnesses who testified against Sessions. One of those witnesses was Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who became the first senator to testify against a colleague under consideration for a Cabinet position. It was a maneuver interpreted by some as a bid to establish his credentials with progressive activists ahead of a rumored run for president in 2020.
But Booker characterized it as a matter of conscience, arguing that the attorney general must be able to uphold “civil rights, equal rights, and justice for all of our citizens” and that, “In many times in his career, [Sessions] has demonstrated a hostility toward these convictions.”
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), an icon of the civil rights movement, also contended that Sessions was unfit for the job, despite his friendly relations with senators of both parties.
“It doesn’t matter how Sen. Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you, but we need someone who’s going to stand up, speak up and speak out for the people who need help, for people who have been discriminated against,” he said.
In his own testimony, Smith forcefully defended Sessions.
“We have seen people who have never met Sen. Sessions claim to know him and know his heart,” he said. “We have seen members of this body and members of the House of Representatives just now, who have worked with Sen. Sessions and praised him for his work, and now turn to attack him. This should not be.”
Smith also criticized opponents of the senator who want the Senate to reject his nomination because they disagree on policy issues.
“There is something very inconsistent about praising Sen. Sessions for aiding African-American communities, in working with them on crack-and-powder cocaine legislation, and then criticizing him because he takes a different political view on another matter like immigration,” he said. “Enforcing immigration laws is not out of the mainstream.”
Although the target currently rests squarely on Sessions’ back, it is hard to imagine whom President-Elect Donald Trump might name to the post that would mollify his critics. NAACP President Cornell Brooks dodged a question from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who asked if the organization would find any Republican an acceptable choice.