Gillibrand, who has fought for changes in how universities and the military handle sexual assault, told WNYC in an interview that she has “grave concerns” about Sessions heading up the Department of Justice. Her key concern is the Alabama Senator’s stance on sexual assault. If the Senate confirms Sessions as Attorney General, he’d be in charge of federal efforts to combat sexual assault and violence against women.
“I will of course pay attention to his hearings, and I will of course give him the opportunity to speak out about what kind of a head of the department he’s going to be. But I have to say, those comments are so offensive, and so dangerous. And if he doesn’t understand the basics of what sexual assault is, I don’t know how he can be Attorney General,” Gillibrand told WNYC. “Because, honestly, that’s one of the Attorney General’s jobs.”
After the Washington Post released a 2005 tape of Trump boasting about how he could do anything he wanted to women, Sessions reportedly told the Weekly Standard that he wouldn’t characterize Trump’s comments as describing sexual assault. Sessions later released a statement, calling the Standard‘s characterization of his comments “inaccurate.” “My hesitation was based solely on confusion of the contents of the 2005 tape and the hypothetical posed by the reporter, which was asked in a chaotic post-debate environment. I regret that it resulted in an inaccurate article that misrepresented my views. Of course it is crystal clear that assault is unacceptable. I would never intentionally suggest otherwise,” Sessions said in the statement, according to the Washington Post.
In the Senate, as Quartz noted, Sessions was one of 22 Republican Senators who voted against the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which made it easier to prosecute sexual assault and domestic violence against women. Sessions told the New York Times in 2013 that he supported the act, but “there are matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition.” (The key point of contention of the expanded bill, which ultimately passed, was a section of the bill that allowed more battered undocumented immigrants to get temporary visas, the Times reported.)
Gillibrand isn’t the only person to oppose Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General. Civil rights groups have condemned his nomination and women who protested outside Trump’s golf club in New Jersey this week cited Trump’s pick of Sessions as a concern.