News Wrap: Cory Booker, John Lewis speak against Sessions

In our news wrap Wednesday, black congressional leaders testified against Jeff Sessions, the president-elect’s nominee to be attorney general, on the second and final day of his confirmation hearings. Also, Elaine Chao, a former secretary of labor and now the choice for transportation secretary, spoke before lawmakers with her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, behind her.

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    But first, in the rest of the day's news: This was the second and final day of the confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions, the Trump nominee to be attorney general. Black leaders have strongly criticized the Alabama senator.

    And, as William Brangham reports, their views got a full airing today.


    I know it is exceptional for a senator to testify against another senator.


    Jeff Sessions was not in the room to hear it, but his nomination drew a rare rebuke from a Senate colleague, Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey.


    He will be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian and transgender Americans, but his record indicates that he won't. He will be expected to defend voting rights, but his record indicates that he won't.


    Georgia Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis also spoke against the nomination.

  • REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-Ga.):

    It doesn't matter how Senator 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 that need help, for people who have been discriminated against.


    Three black officials who worked with Sessions in the past gave their support to the attorney general-designate.


    Senator Sessions is unquestionably qualified for the job.


    And a former attorney general, Michael Mukasey, came to his defense as well.

  • MICHAEL MUKASEY, Former Attorney General:

    Principled, intelligent, knowledgeable, thorough, modest, and thoroughly dedicated to the rule of law and to the mission of the department, which is to enforce the law and to preserve our freedoms.


    Sessions is ultimately expected to win easy confirmation in the Senate.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.


    Amid the president's Cabinet choices from outside Washington, there are some from well inside. His choice for transportation secretary is Elaine Chao. She served two previous presidents. And she testified today with her husband Mitch McConnell behind her. She spoke of using private money to build up public infrastructure.

    ELAINE CHAO, Secretary of Transportation-Designate: We all know that the government doesn't have the resources to do it all. It's also important to recognize that the way we build and deliver projects is just as important as how much we invest.


    Now, Chao's words hint at a potential political conflict. The president-elect says he wants big spending on roads and bridges and airports. Democrats do too, but some Republicans fought that spending when President Obama wanted it, and they don't agree yet on how to pay for it.


    President-elect Trump also today announced his nominee for secretary of Veterans Affairs. David Shulkin is currently the department's top health official, managing 1,700 facilities that treat nine million veterans.

    In a statement, Shulkin said he is eager to begin reforming a system plagued by long wait lines — times.


    A federal judge today formally sentenced Dylann Roof to death for killing nine black worshipers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. A jury agreed on the sentence yesterday. Now, Roof stared straight ahead today as relatives of some of the victims said they forgive him, but one called his name and finally shouted in frustration, "I wish you would look at me, boy."


    In Afghanistan, the death toll climbed past 50 in Tuesday's bombings in Kabul and Kandahar. Five diplomats from the United Arab Emirates died in the attack in Kandahar. The Persian Gulf state's ambassador was among the wounded. The Taliban claimed the Kabul bombing, but there's been no claim in the Kandahar incident.


    In other news, Volkswagen agreed today to plead guilty to criminal charges. The company will also pay $4.3 billion in fines for cheating on emissions. It's part of a plea bargain with the U.S. Justice Department. A grand jury has indicted six high-ranking V.W. employees for allegedly lying to regulators and destroying evidence, among other charges.

    Federal prosecutors say at least 40 people took part in the fraud and the cover-up.

  • LORETTA LYNCH, Attorney General:

    This is a case that illustrates a company that at very high levels knew of this problem and deliberately chose to continue with this fraudulent behavior. And that's one reason why the actions taken here are so severe and do devolve on individuals.


    We should mention that Volkswagen already settled civil charges related to the emissions cheating for $15 billion.


    Eastern Europe is struggling to cope with a blast of bitter cold and heavy snow. Officials report at least 73 deaths in recent days. Temperatures have hit minus-14 in parts of the Balkans, the coldest in more than 50 years. And, in Greece, medical officials warned of inhuman conditions at migrant camps.

    Meanwhile, in Northern California, rescue crews used boats to reach stranded people after the heaviest rain in a decade. Thousands more have been urged to evacuate ahead of the floods.


    And on Wall Street, oil prices went up, and so did stocks. For weeks now, people have been waiting for the Dow to climb over 20000. It hasn't quite happened yet. It gained 98 points today to close at 19954. The Nasdaq rose 11 points, and the S&P 500 added six.

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