ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The U.S. Senate got a new member today. The Republican attorney general of Alabama, Luther Strange, has replaced Jeff Sessions, who became President Trump's new attorney general. Strange was chosen to fill the role by Alabama's governor, who's in the middle of a political scandal. The appointment raises some questions for the governor. To help untangle all this, we are joined by NPR's Debbie Elliott. And Debbie, first tell us, who is Luther Strange?
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Luther Strange was in his second term as Alabama's attorney general. He now could very well be the tallest member of the U.S. Senate. He's 6-foot-9. He's a former high school and college basketball player at Tulane, where he also went to law school. He is the next in line for Republican leadership in the state, so this is not a surprise appointment. It's an interim appointment, and he has said he does plan to run for the office when the election comes up in two years.
In the past year, he has started to make a national name for himself. He's been the chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association and nodded to that organization today as he talked about their work.
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LUTHER STRANGE: That group has banded together to fight back against federal overreach. We've been what's called the last line of defense against unbridled federal government. Well, now we have a chance to go on the offense.
SIEGEL: A chance to go on the offense - when he says that, what kind of politics should we expect from Senator Strange?
ELLIOTT: Conservative politics very much in the mold of Jeff Sessions, and you can just look at his record as attorney general to justify that. You know, he's been very active in state-led fights against federal environmental regulations, against Obamacare, against transgender bathroom directives. He's fought for Alabama's strict abortion laws. He defended the state's controversial immigration law. A good bit of it was struck down by federal courts.
And today he sort of hinted at some of the things he was looking forward to in the Senate. First he said it would be very sweet to be able to vote to confirm his friend, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, as chief of the EPA. And then he promised to jump right into the debate about the federal judiciary. He said he looks forward to fighting for constitutional federalist judges.
SIEGEL: Now, Luther Strange was appointed to the vacant Senate seat by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, who has been embroiled in a scandal this last year and who was assumed to be under investigation by the state attorney general, who was Luther Strange. So remind us of that whole story.
ELLIOTT: Yes, this complicates things a bit. And many people in Alabama are saying this raises a conflict of interest question. So there were allegations that Governor Bentley, married at the time, was having an affair with a top political aide. He admitted to inappropriate behavior after some sexually loaded conversations were caught on tape, but he denied the affair.
The scandal raised questions about whether state and or campaign funds were misused to cover up that relationship and to pay the aide and her husband, who also had a state contract. So Alabama House leaders had started impeachment proceedings and an investigation against the governor. And they say that Attorney General Strange waved them off, told them to hold off a bit because of something he was working on.
So now the question is, what will happen of any investigation that the attorney general's office had underway, if that will continue now that Luther Strange has been appointed by Governor Bentley to the Senate? And now Governor Bentley will be able to eventually appoint a replacement in the attorney general's office. So it certainly raises some questions. Strange addressed that question today, saying, you know, we've never said publicly that we were investigating the governor, and I'm not going to comment about that now.
SIEGEL: NPR's Debbie Elliott, thanks.
ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.