Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday denied disrespecting a Hawaii judge and said he does not regret describing the state as an “island in the Pacific” earlier this week.
“I wasn’t criticizing the judge or the island,” Sessions told CNN. “I think it’s a fabulous place and had a granddaughter born there.”
Asked if he regretted the comment, he added, “I don’t know that I said anything that I would want to phrase differently. No. We’re going to defend the president’s order. We believe it’s constitutional.”
In an interview with conservative talk radio host Mark Levin on Wednesday, Sessions dismissed Hawaii judge Derrick Watson, who ruled against President Donald Trump’s second travel ban targeting six Muslim-majority countries as a “judge sitting on an island in the Pacific.”
“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power,” Sessions said.
The remark prompted a rebuke from Hawaii’s senators, both Democrats. Sen. Mazie Hirono called the comment “ignorant” and “dangerous” and accused Sessions of playing “dog whistle politics”; Sen. Brian Schatz demanded that Sessions “have some respect.”
Sessions, though, defended the remark similarly to how a Justice Department spokesman had on Thursday, arguing that he was trying to make a broader point.
“I’ve got to tell you, it is a point worth making that a single sitting district judge out of 600, 700 district judges can issue an order stopping a presidential executive order that I believe is fully constitutional, designed to protect the United States of America from terrorist attack,” he told CNN. “And I was just raising the point of that issue of a single judge taking such a dramatic action and the impact it can have.”