Grilling Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) at his confirmation hearing for attorney general Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) launched a guilt-by-association attack related to a group that favors immigration restrictions.
Blumenthal attacked the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which gave Sessions its Franklin Society Award in 2007, and a pair of campaign contributions that Sessions received from the group’s founder. Blumenthal noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled FAIR a “hate group.”
“First of all, I don’t know that I defer to the Southern Poverty Law Center as the final authority of who’s a radical group.”
Asked Blumenthal: “Will you denounce those statements and disavow that award and that support from that organization?”
Sessions pushed back.
“I don’t accept that statement,” he said. “I believe the United States should have an immigration policy that’s fair and objective and gives people from all over the world a right to apply and … [America] should give preference to people who have the ability to be prosperous and succeed in America and to improve their lives and to improve the United States of America.”
Blumenthal quoted FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, making a pair of racially charged statements: “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a Euro-American majority, and a clear one at that,” and, “Too much diversity leads to divisiveness and conflict.”
Sessions said he does not agree with those statements.
“I do not accept that kind of language,” he said. “It would be contrary to my understanding of American vision of life.”
But Sessions also suggested that the Southern Poverty Law Center lacks credibility.
“First of all, I don’t know that I defer to the Southern Poverty Law Center as the final authority of who’s a radical group,” he said. “So I would first challenge that. They acknowledged publicly and have in the last few weeks that I was a strong sister to them in prosecuting the [Ku Klux] Klan, but they said they oppose me because their views on immigration. Well, I believe my views on immigration are correct, just, decent, and right.”
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for FAIR, said the Tanton quotes cited by Blumenthal have nothing to do with his organization.
“These have never been FAIR’s positions,” he said. “Our position has always been that we need an immigration policy that doesn’t discriminate against anyone.”
It is not the first time that FAIR has tangled with the Southern Poverty Law Center. Recently, FAIR announced its intention to ask the IRS to review the Southern Poverty Law Center’s tax-exempt status based on allegations that the group is engaging in improper political activity.
Mehlman said even some progressives have dismissed the Alabama-based civil rights group as “charlatans who go around slapping labels” on people and organizations it disagrees with on policy issues.
“This is the sort of thing that the Southern Poverty Law Center is known for,” he said.
Sessions suggested that Blumenthal was trying to hold him to an unfair standard with respect to awards from FAIR and two other controversial organizations.
“I don’t feel like it’s right to judge me and require that I give back an award if I don’t agree with every policy of an organization that gave an award,” he said. “I was honored to be given awards. A lot of prominent people, I’m sure, have received awards presented by either one of these groups.”