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Sessions to Senate: No Muslim Ban, Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage Settled Law

WASHINGTON – Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), President-elect Trump’s choice to serve as attorney general, seemed to break with the next chief executive on a number of key issues during his confirmation hearing today, including Trump’s controversial proposal to indefinitely block those of the Muslim faith from entering the country.

Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is expected to send his nomination to the floor for confirmation, Sessions, 70, said he holds “no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims as a religious group should be denied admission to the United States.”

During his successful presidential campaign, Trump floated the idea of halting Muslims from entering the country in an effort to combat terrorism. Sessions said he now believes the president-elect has moderated that view, instead favoring a form of stringent vetting to keep those coming from a country with a history of terrorism from crossing the nation’s borders.

Sessions further told the panel that he objected to any proposed Muslim ban because, according to his reading, the proposal would prohibit any consideration of personal religious beliefs in the vetting process.

“Many people do have religious views that are inimical to the public safety of the United States,” Sessions said.

On another issue where he may part with the president-elect’s orthodoxy, Sessions told lawmakers that waterboarding – a procedure used by terrorist interrogators in the past to obtain information – is “absolutely improper and illegal” under current law.

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to bring back waterboarding and additional techniques that he said would be “much stronger,” telling an audience in South Carolina last February, “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work – torture works.”

Sessions himself endorsed the legal analysis prepared during the administration of former President George W. Bush that authorized waterboarding, insisting that the procedure worked. But he hinted there is no getting around the prohibition as enacted.

The nominee further said he would follow the law as construed by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding abortion and same-sex marriage, even though he stridently disagrees with the high court’s decisions.

“It is the law of the land, it has been settled for some time,” Sessions said regarding abortion, adding that he will “respect it and follow it.” Trump, who at one time favored abortion rights, is now opposed to the procedure and at one point went so far as to say women terminating pregnancies should be held legally liable, a position he subsequently retracted.

Sessions addressed another issue that could make his potential future boss uneasy – sexual assault. Under questioning from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking member and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions was asked if "grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent, is that sexual assault?"