At today’s confirmation hearing for Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut asked Sessions to respond to the endorsement he received from the extremist anti-choice group Operation Rescue, whose president, Troy Newman, said he “couldn’t be happier” with Sessions’ nomination.
Blumenthal confronted Sessions with a quote from a book in which Newman argues that the government has a responsibility to execute abortion providers and a “wanted” poster from Operation Rescue’s campaign against Wichita abortion provider George Tiller, who was later murdered by an anti-choice extremist.
“Will you disavow their endorsement of you?” Blumenthal asked.
“I disavow any activity like that,” Sessions responded. “Absolutely. And a group that would even suggest that is unacceptable.”
He went on to say that he would enforce laws like the FACE Act, which was passed to ensure access to abortion clinics in the face of clinic-blocking practices by groups like Operation Rescue.
While it’s reassuring that Sessions thinks that Operation Rescue is “unacceptable,” it’s a view he doesn’t seem to share with the president-elect, who invited Newman to a meeting with conservative religious leaders in New York in June, eventually earning Newman’s endorsement:
(Before he endorsed Trump, Newman was for his GOP rival Ted Cruz, becoming co-chair of an anti-choice coalition organized by Cruz’s campaign.)
But it’s not only that. Sessions himself, like many of his Republican congressional colleagues, has actively promoted Newman’s work as a founder of the Center for Medical Progress, the organization that has been pushing discredited smears against Planned Parenthood in an effort to undermine legal abortion. Sessions signed a letter in 2015 citing the Center for Medical Progress in urging an investigation of the women’s health provider.
The anti-choice movement has relied on allegations pushed by the Center for Medical Progress in their call to remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood, which Trump has pledged to back.
Sessions may find it convenient to disavow Newman and Operation Rescue when confronted with their positions on national television, but he and the administration he hopes to join have been singing a different tune when they think they can get away with it.
In a press release, Operation Rescue claims that Blumenthal’s was wrong to describe it as “as a group that advocates execution of abortion providers”—in reality, Blumenthal read a direct quote from a book written by Newman and his Operation Rescue colleague Cheryl Sullenger. Operation Rescue also disputes Blumenthal’s assertion that it called Dr. Tiller’s murderer a “political prisoner.” It is true that Blumenthal misspoke: Newman used the term to describe another anti-abortion murderer, Paul Hill. That’s hardly any better.
Operation Rescue also claims that it had nothing to do with the “wanted” poster that Blumenthal displayed. The poster that Blumenthal displayed appears to be one of the many such posters targeting abortion providers that the Feminist Majority Foundation has collected. These posters are rarely officially connected with any group but have often accompanied campaigns against providers, such as the years-long effort Operation Rescue staged against Tiller.