U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions said on Tuesday he does not support a ban on Muslims entering the country, drawing a sharp distinction between his views and those expressed by president-elect Donald Trump, who has nominated the Alabama senator as his attorney general.
During his confirmation hearing in Washington, Sessions told members of the Senate judiciary committee the U.S. “should recognize religious freedom” as mandated by the Constitution.
“I do not support the idea that Muslims should be denied entry to the United States,” he said.
Trump proposed a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants during the Republican primary campaign, drawing criticism from both Democrats and members of his own party. During the general election, he shifted his rhetoric to focus on temporarily halting immigration from an unspecified list of countries with ties to terrorism.
Trump has not disavowed the Muslim ban, which is still prominently displayed on his campaign website.
Sessions indicated his support for stronger vetting of immigrants.
Tuesday marks the start of two days of confirmation hearings for Sessions, during which he also spoke out against the use of torture and vowed to recuse himself from any investigations of Hillary Clinton’s email server or the Clinton Foundation.
Trump has advocated the use of torture and at one point vowed to launch an investigation aimed at his defeated Democratic rival, though he appeared to back down on the latter issue following his victory in the Nov. 8 election.
Opponents have expressed concerns about whether Sessions can remain non-political as the country’s top lawman, and was asked by fellow Republican Charles Grassley how he would handle a Clinton probe.
“The proper thing to do would be to recuse myself,” Sessions said.
Others have raised concern about allegations of racism, which derailed his federal judicial nomination 30 years ago. In 1986, he was accused of having called a black attorney “boy” and having made derogatory references to the NAACP and ACLU.
Sessions strongly denied those accusations, calling them “false” and part of an unfair “caricature.”
His remarks were interrupted several times by protesters.