Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions is preparing to face fresh scrutiny for a decades' old charge he made racially-charged comments while a US Attorney in his home state of Alabama.
The allegations cost him a job as a federal judge in 1986 and have the potential to sink his nomination to be attorney general under President-elect Donald Trump. To survive, he will need to carefully distance himself from the damaging charges and deftly manage how his Senate colleagues -- and the public -- react to them.
It won't be easy.
Many Democrats already are deeply disturbed by the allegations that Sessions may have called an African-American lawyer "boy" and accused the NAACP and ACLU of being "un-American." They promise to re-investigate the charges to determine if they are still relevant. But Democrats are equally concerned about fourth-term senator's current views on immigration and border control, which they consider strident and racially-biased.
They worry that in the sensitive post as the top law enforcement official in the country, Sessions may not treat all people equally under law and already some Democrats privately want to defeat him.
"While many of us have worked with Senator Sessions closely and know him to be a staunch advocate for his beliefs, the process will remain the same: a fair and complete review of the nominee. While Senator Sessions and I differ on a great many issues, I am committed to a full and fair process," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who will be the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee next year when it holds confirmation hearings for Sessions, who also sits on the committee.
In 2009, Sessions told CNN's Dana Bash that his 1986 confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee -- a contentious affair where he clashed repeatedly with Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and other Democrats -- was "really heartbreaking to me."
Visibly upset in the television interview, the earnest senator pleaded his case.
"That was not fair. That was not accurate. Those were false charges and distortions of anything that I did, and it really was not. I never had those kinds of views, and I was caricatured in a way that was not me," he said.
The question is whether Session's heartfelt appeal that he was a victim of wrongful allegations and not the perpetrator of racially-insensitive conduct can convince senators to confirm him. The haze of time and distance from the events may assist Sessions, especially with many of the players of the 1986 drama no longer in the Senate.
Sessions' political ties to Trump and Senate Republican leaders could help him too. He's a fierce defender of the President-elect and was the first senator to endorse him. Trump said he could have any job he wanted -- and he mulled becoming secretary of defense before settling on AG.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said he "strongly supports" the nomination and promised a swift confirmation process for him. Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, noting that Sessions was once the top Republican on the committee, said he is "confident he would be reported favorably out of the committee."
Also helping Sessions are the new Senate rules that will allow him to be confirmed with the support of just 51 senators, not the supermajority 60 that were required until recently. That means Republicans can confirm Sessions without any Democratic support.
Sessions, who will want to be confirmed with bipartisan support, will point Democrats to comments from the late Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who in 1986 was one of only two GOP members of the Judiciary Committee to vote against Sessions' nomination to the federal bench. In 2009, as Specter was leaving the Republican Party and joining the Democratic caucus, he said he "regretted" that vote.
"Because I have found that Sen. Sessions is egalitarian," Specter told reporters.
Defending Sessions' record on civil rights issues, Trump spokesman Jason Miller noted Friday that Session had voted for a 30-year extension of the Civil Rights Act, had voted to confirm Eric Holder -- who is black -- as attorney general, and voted to give civil rights legend Rosa Parks the Congressional Gold Medal.
As an example of the Trump team readying for a battle, a public relations firm sent reporters pictures of Sessions attending the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and holding hands with Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia. The release said the photos are 'Worth 1,000 words" and the Sessions' critics may not want the photos to be seen.
Race and the Capitol
The difficult topic of race relations is never far from the surface in the Capitol, where momentous battles over slavery and civil rights were fought out on the House and Senate floors. Today, lawmakers remain divided over questions about police shootings of black Americ