Pa. Senators: Defend American Greatness By Rejecting These Two Trump Picks

Opinion: Mike Pompeo favors torture. Jeff Sessions has consistently shown antipathy toward people of color. You must not confirm them for Trump's administration.

Bob Casey Pat Toomey

L: Bob Casey R: Pat Toomey (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Dear Senators Toomey and Casey,

We’ve got to talk — youngish Baby Boomer to youngish Baby Boomer, Catholic to Catholic, Pennsylvania voter to Pennsylvania legislators.

After the most divisive and hostile election in recent history, our nation stands on a knife edge: Who we are, what our nation represents, which human and civil rights we protect (and which we betray), are all up for grabs. As a Latina citizen, I will tell you that I have never felt as profoundly troubled about how those questions about our nation’s fundamental character will be answered as I am today.

I know I am not alone in this. Nearly every person of color, Muslim American, immigrant and LGBTQI person I know is bracing for the administration of a president-elect who, from the beginning, sought to portray us as usurpers, criminals, renegades and second-class citizens. A president-elect who never once bothered to acknowledge our great foundational and continuing contributions to this nation.

But I don’t want to talk to you about the election, which is, after all, over and done and sealed into history. I want, instead, to talk to you about how your choices in the next few months will shape our nation’s future.

The president-elect’s administration, so far, is an echo of the past 18 months — which is to say, it is as openly hostile to people of color, Muslim Americans, immigrants and LGBTQI folks as the campaign was: The extremist media provocateur named the administrations’s chief strategist … the general who considers Islam a cancer, not a religion, set to be our national security adviser …

Other cabinet appointments, however, await your imprimatur, Senators.

Will you confirm as Attorney General someone who has consistently demonstrated antipathy toward people of color?

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Trump pick for A.G., was famously rejected in his bid to become a federal judge in the 1980s because of his history of racist actions and words, including calling a Black prosecutor “boy” and claiming the NAACP was un-American for “trying to force civil rights down the throats of people.”

Let the past be past? Not so fast. He has since called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation — “intrusive,” and supports the national deployment of stop-and-frisk, which every credible statistical analysis irrefutably indicates racially targets African-American men. 

Sessions also supports a Muslim immigrant ban. In fact, he has been called the most anti-immigrant senator in the nation by the Brennan Center for Justice — because he not only calls for harsh and punitive measures against undocumented immigrants, but opposes legal immigration as well.

In 2006, during testimony on the Senate floor about the lottery of visas for legal immigrants, Sessions characterized most applicants as poor and of little potential benefit to the U.S. He went on to single out “Mexico, all of Central America, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Morocco, all of the African nations, the Middle East, Bangladesh, China, India, Taiwan, the Philippines.” 

In addition to the utterly ahistorical nature of his claim about poor immigrants, it is impossible to ignore the fact that there is no nation of “white” people in his list — despite the fact that in 2006, the U.S. took in more immigrants from Russia than from India, Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic or any of the Central American nations; more German immigrants than immigrants from Taiwan or Morocco; and more immigrants from Poland and Great Britain than any single African nation.

Moments later in that testimony, Sessions added, “Almost no one coming from the Dominican Republic to the United States is coming because they have a skill that would benefit us and that would indicate their likely success in our society.”

There is no way to understand that statement as anything but unabashed prejudice.

There are 1.5 million people of Dominican heritage in the United States, about 960,000 of them immigrants and the majority of those either citizens or lawfully residing. Some 18,000 Dominican immigrants reside in the Philadelphia/Camden/Wilmington area, and another 8,400 in Lehigh County.

Since that is your home county, Sen. Toomey, you must know that, notwithstanding Sen. Sessions’ claim, Dominicans are successful and productive members of our communities. Both the commonwealth and the nation have greatly benefited from the talents of bodegueros and hairdressers and union workers and professionals in every possible occupation, including Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz, Major Leaguer David “Big Papi” Ortiz, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and newly elected U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat from New York. 

But according to Sessions, no one coming from the Dominican Republic to the United States is coming because they have a skill that would benefit us and that would indicate their likely success in our society. It would be an unbearable breach of the American ideal to elect to the post of Attorney General someone whose biases are this glaring and brazen.

There is an opportunity for you here, Sen. Toomey — to lead from conscience and the conviction that all of us have worth irrespective of race, religion or ethnic origin, rather than falling into partisan lockstep. Sen. Casey, there is an opportunity for you as well — to work to convince your fellow Democrats, among them Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has indicated he will vote to approve Sessions, to stand up for their constituents of color.

In fact, both of you can do this together. Sen. Toomey, we know from your work with Manchin following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that bipartisanship is not inimical to you when the cause is important enough. And as one of your constituents of color, let me assure you: This is important enough. 

Likewise, will you confirm as head of the CIA a man who favors torture and extrajudicial imprisonment?

Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo — Trump’s appointee — does.

Pompeo believes torture is constitutional. He denounced President Barack Obama for his decision in 2009 to close the CIA’s secret prisons — “black sites” in places like Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Poland, Romania and Lithuania — where people detained by the U.S. via extraordinary rendition were tortured and imprisoned without charge or legal recourse, and kept from international humanitarian oversight of any kind.

The Kansas senator is also, according to the New York Times, averse to the idea that intelligence interrogators should “adhere to the rules of the Army Field Manual.”

Your colleague Sen. John McCain — a survivor of torture at the hands of the the North Vietnamese when he was held as a P.O.W. — has long spoken against use of any form of torture and so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques, including waterboarding, which Pompeo defends as constitutional. McCain unequivocally rejects them as ineffectual, and worse, as deeply immoral. “What does it say about America if we are going to inflict torture on people?” McCain asks, and we already know the answer: nothing good.

The faith tradition the three of us share, Senators, says the same (CCC 2297,2298): “In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order […] In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition.”

It isn’t only his belief in torture and extraordinary rendition that makes Pompeo a deeply problematic appointment whose confirmation I urge you to reject.

After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, he said U.S. Islamic leaders were potentially “complicit” in the horrific and terroristic attack, which left three dead. This betrays the way many of us have criminalized Islam so that any and all of the 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States are held responsible for the actions of any criminals among them. This, too, is unabashed prejudice. We do not do this with any other religion in the U.S. today, certainly not Christianity. Dylann Roofa Lutheran — deliberately targeted and killed nine people in a horrific and terroristic attack on African-Americans in Charleston … but no U.S. Lutheran leaders were made “complicit” for it, neither were the 8 million Lutherans in the nation tarred by association. 

Senators, let opposing the appointments of Sessions and Pompeo be a mark of your leadership. Do it as a repudiation of the more than 400 incidents of harassment and anti-Black, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQI intimidation that have taken place since Donald Trump’s election. Do it because you believe in the American ideal of ethical action and just representation for all your constituents — not just the ones favored by the president-elect via his appointees.

“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing,” said John Stuart Mill. Voters like me are watching what you do and what you say to gauge which of the two you are.

We are measuring your mettle, Senators Toomey and Casey, and marking for posterity how great (or ignoble) your definition of America really is.

Sabrina Vourvoulias is an award-winning columnist with bylines at The Guardian USCity & State, and Strange Horizons. Her novel, Ink, was named one of Latinidad’s Best Books of 2012. Follow her on Twitter @followthelede.