Throughout the presidential election, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general — Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) — was arguably the most prominent supporter of then-candidate Trump’s December 2015 call “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
“We’re in an age that’s very dangerous and we’re seeing more and more persons enter and a lot of them have done terrorist acts and a lot of them believe it’s commanded by their religion,” Sessions told Steve Bannon on Breitbart’s radio program just days after Trump first made the proposal. “So I think it’s appropriate to begin to discuss this, and [Trump] has forced that discussion.”
On the same day he did that radio interview with Trump’s future chief White House strategist, Sessions “broke with most of his Republican Senate Judiciary Committee colleagues to vote against an amendment stating that the Senate would not create policies that discriminate based on religion,” the Daily Beast reported.
“The adoption of the Leahy Amendment would constitute a transformation of our immigration system. In effect, it is a move toward the ratification of the idea that global migration is a ‘human right,’ and a civil right, and that these so-called ‘immigrants’ rights’ must be supreme to the rights of sovereign nations to determine who can and cannot enter their borders,” Sessions said, presaging Trump’s “America first” rhetoric.
Sessions continued to speak out in favor of a Muslim ban throughout 2016. In May, he told ABC News that “we do have a problem with violent extremism. We need to talk about that, we need to admit it, we need to know the nature of the threat that the United States faces.”
“So I don’t think Trump has gone too far,” he added. “He said, ‘we should have a temporary ban on entry of people into the country from the Muslim world,’ but that’s because we have an ineffective screening process… so I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
In January 2016, one of Sessions’ top aides, Stephen Miller, left for a job with the Trump campaign. Miller is now Trump’s senior White House adviser and reportedly played a leading role in putting together the Muslim ban Trump implemented via an executive order last Friday, splitting up families and generating protests at airports around the country over the weekend.
According to CNN, Miller and Bannon overruled the Department of Homeland Security and ordered that the ban apply to green card holders. Miller also reportedly urged government employees to ignore the outpouring of criticism across the country.
sources: WH policy director Stephen Miller told govt employees Sat. that the public is behind the Exec Order, ignore hysterical voices on TV
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 29, 2017
On Monday morning, Miller defended the ban during an appearance on CBS This Morning, saying he thought the chaos that reigned at airports across the country actually reflected an “efficient, orderly, [and] enormously successful” implementation of the new travel restrictions.
If nobody is disagreeing with what you’re doing then you’re probably not doing anything that matters. — Trump adviser Stephen Miller on ban pic.twitter.com/nLkV47jP4w
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) January 30, 2017
Miller has also suggested immediate implementation of the ban was necessary because “there are individuals who are plotting to engage in terrorism,” but he hasn’t provided information about any specific threats.
As Betsy Woodruff of the Daily Beast wrote on Saturday, Trump’s Muslim ban “was the predictable culmination of years of advocacy from two of President Donald Trump’s most trusted advisors: White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller and attorney general designate Jeff Sessions.”
“For years, Sessions and Miller — who was the Alabama senator’s communications director before leaving to join the Trump campaign — pushed research and talking points designed to make Americans afraid of refugees,” Woodruff wrote. “Press releases, email forwards, speeches on the Senate floor — Miller and Sessions used it all to make the case against Obama’s refugee program was a huge terror threat.”
During his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Sessions said he does not support banning Muslims from entering the United States.
“I have no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims as a religious group should be denied admission to the United States,” Sessions said.
Despite his campaign rhetoric, Trump now claims that the new travel restrictions he implemented last Friday are not a “Muslim ban.” So Sessions can deny he supports a Muslim ban and still support Trump’s policy, which bans citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.
Sessions’ nomination will be voted on by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. So far, no Republicans have come out in opposition to him, and one Democrat — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) — he said he’ll vote in favor of Sessions’ approval.