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Activists pressure Tillis to oppose Trump cabinet nominees

Posted January 24, 2017 12:24 p.m. EST
Updated January 24, 2017 7:00 p.m. EST

— Dozens of protesters urged U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis on Tuesday not to confirm some of President Donald Trump's cabinet nominees.

Activists with the voting rights group Common Cause North Carolina delivered 9,900 petitions to Tillis' Raleigh office, asking that he reject the nomination of Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as U.S. attorney general. The protesters also oppose businesswoman and philanthropist Betsy DeVos as education secretary and Republican Congressman Tom Price of Georgia as secretary of health and human services.

Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin said the North Carolina Republican backs Sessions, although the two disagree on issues such as immigration reform and criminal justice reform.

"As Attorney General, he will follow the rule of law, be accessible and address the organizational and accountability issues plaguing the Department of Justice, which are qualities and priorities that have unfortunately been missing from the department’s leadership over the last eight years," Tillis said in a Nov. 18 statement following Sessions' nomination.

In 1986, a Senate committee turned down Sessions for a federal judgeship because fellow prosecutors and employees in Alabama alleged he made racist comments. He also voted against the Voting Rights Act, which is intended to protect minorities voting power.

Keylin said in an email that Sessions "addressed these false allegations" of racist comments during his confirmation hearing and noted Sessions' record includes voting for a 30-year extension of the Civil Rights Act and supporting numerous desegregation lawsuits during his time as a U.S. attorney in Alabama.

"He is respected across party lines by his colleagues in the Senate, which is why he will be confirmed on a bipartisan basis," Keylin wrote.

Still, Raleigh civil rights activist Earl Johnson said there are too many issues on Sessions' record to confirm him.

"His history, as (civil rights activist and Democratic Congressman) John Lewis pointed out so eloquently, is one of racism. It’s one of turning back the clock on minorities," Johnson said. "He is supposed to be the attorney general for all the people, and we’re not sure he’s going to be that."

Retiree Clifford Charles said he joined the protest because he was energized by Saturday's massive Women's March rallies.

"I'm certain that, as people get more enthused and come out and see others getting enthused, it will breathe some life into people who really can sense that something's wrong, but they're not sure if they can make a difference," Charles said.

Retiree Nan Friedman went to the rally in downtown Raleigh on Saturday and said she worries about the future of democracy in the U.S.

"I’m worried about the comments about the news media. I’m worried about the bullying of people who disagree," Friedman said. "I think we’re at a very dangerous time in our country. I think that we can come together to discuss solutions, but I don’t think the administration is encouraging that. I think they’re working hard to actually pit people against each other."

Protest organizers said they plan to demonstrate outside Tillis' Raleigh office every Tuesday.