On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee began confirmation hearings for Senator Jeff Sessions, President-elect Trump’s pick for Attorney General.
Protesters started interrupting before it began, and continued throughout the proceedings—with two demonstrators dressed in KKK robes escorted from the room right as Sessions walked in.
A woman with Code Pink was also removed after shouting that Sessions was “evil,” while another protestor called the Alabama senator “a racist.”
Protestors weren’t the only ones expressing their concerns: David Cole, legal director for the ACLU, said the Attorney General “has a particular responsibility to protect those who are most vulnerable—like immigrants, gays and lesbians, women—and Sen. Sessions has frankly been insensitive to or hostile to all of these groups.”
Here are 7 things you need to know about the first part of Sessions’ confirmation hearing today.
Sessions addressed his alleged racism.Getty Images
In 1986, Sessions became the second nominee in 50 years to be rejected from a federal judgeship for allegedly making racist remarks, including calling the NAACP “un-American,” referring to a black subordinate as “boy,” and joking that he thought Ku Klux Klan members were “okay,” until he learned that they smoked marijuana.
Sessions also attempted to prosecute three black Alabama community activists for voter fraud because of their outreach efforts. One of the defense lawyers from that case wrote a scathing letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying Sessions’ poor judgment in prosecuting that case disqualified him to act as the highest prosecutor in the nation.
Today, Sessions paused during his prepared opening remarks to address these allegations head on.
“I abhor the Klan and its hateful ideology,” he said said. “I never declared the NAACP was un-American.” Later, he stated, “I deeply understand the history of civil rights and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African-American brothers and sisters. I have witnessed it. We must continue to move forward and never back.”
He softened his stance on abortion—sort of.Getty Images
Sessions is a vocal opponent of a woman’s right to choose, voting against a resolution expressing support of Roe v. Wade, and for a ban on abortions after the 20th week. He also voted to defund Planned Parenthood and opposes protections against anti-abortion clinic violence.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Sessions said he would respect Roe v. Wade, even though he disagrees with it. When Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked about his calling Roe v. Wade a “colossal” mistake, he responded, “I believe it violated the Constitution,” but added, “It is the law of the land, it has been settled for some time… I will respect it and follow it.”
He backpedaled on his stance on marriage equality.Getty Images
Sessions’ record on LGBT rights is far from stellar: In 1996, he fought to block the Southeastern Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual College Conference from meeting at the University of Alabama, using a state law that banned schools from funding any group that promotes “actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws.”
When the university demurred, he announced he was considering a court order to stop the event. (Days later, a federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional.)
After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of federal marriage equality in 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges, Sessions called it an “effort to secularize [this country], by force and intimidation.”
But in his hearing, he said, “The Supreme Court has ruled … The dissents dissented vigorously, but it was 5-4 and … I will follow that decision.”
In his opening remarks, he also claimed, to “understand the demands for justice and fairness made by our LGBT community” and promised that “statutes protecting their civil rights and their safety are fully enforced.”
He doesn’t think he ever shouted for Hillary Clinton to be “locked up.”Getty Images
When asked by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse whether he ever chanted “Lock her up,” a common refrain at Trump rallies, Sessions responded, “No, I did not. I don’t think. I heard it, at rallies and so forth—sometimes I think, humorously done.”
Later, he added, “I believe the proper thing for me to do would be to recuse myself from questions involving those kinds of investigations involving Secretary Clinton that were raised during the campaign and could be otherwise connected to it. I believe that would be best for the country because we can never have a political dispute turn into a criminal dispute.”
He addressed police brutality, sort of.Getty Images
In his opening remarks, Sessions vaguely addressed issues involving police violence, saying he wanted to “focusing the efforts of our nation’s anti-crime apparatus in ways that more effectively enhance public safety and minimize officer misconduct.”
“It is essential,” he added, “for police and the communities they serve to have mutual respect.”
Later, though, he doubled down on the importance of proactive law enforcement, stating, “it is a fundamental civil right to be safe in your home and your community.” He claimed the rise in violent crime in Chicago and other larger cities was not an anomaly, “but the beginning of a dangerous trend.”
He backpedaled on banning Muslims.Getty Images
Asked whether or not he supports Trump’s idea to ban Muslims from entering the country, Sessions replied, “I believe the President-elect has subsequent to that statement made clear that he believes the focus should be on individuals coming from countries that have histories of terrorism, and he’s also stated that his policy and what he’d suggest is strong vetting.”
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy then asked why Sessions had voted against a Senate resolution that opposed using religion as a basis for denying entry into the US.
“Many people do have religious views that are inimical to the values of the United States,” Sessions responded, adding that he opposed the resolution because it ruled out considering religion at all. “I have no belief… that Muslims as a religious group should be denied admission to the United States. We have great Muslim citizens who have contributed in so many ways.”
Sessions refused to say whether he believes Russia influenced the U.S. election.Getty Images
The senator followed Trump’s lead when it came to findings from the intelligence community about how Russian hacking influenced the presidential election, basically declining to address them.
“I have done no research into that,” he told Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. “I know just what the media says about it.”