The organizers of Thursday's events warned of even more massive street protests if Trump fired Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had been overseeing the Mueller investigation after Sessions recused himself.
That investigation is now being lead by former FBI director Robert Mueller, who was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and has overseen the probe's work.
Susan Collins, the Republican senator from ME, and one of the party's more moderate elected politicians, also praised Mr Sessions, saying he was "a leader of integrity who served our country well".
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has endured more than a year of criticism from Donald Trump over the Mueller inquiry. He did not mention that White House chief of staff John Kelly had called Sessions beforehand to ask for his resignation.
Whitaker himself meanwhile offered little clue about his intentions in a bland statement to reporters thanking Trump for his appointment, praising his former boss as a "dedicated public servant" and adding he would work to leading a department that conformed to the "highest ethical standards". That has convinced many opponents of Trump that the president has Mueller in his crosshairs. He previously wrote an opinion piece for CNN entitled "Mueller's investigation of Trump is going too far" that said Trump's personal finances should be considered off-limits. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that "protecting Mueller and his investigation is paramount".
Whitaker, a former Republican politician, has publicly called for limits on the Mueller probe. Democrats are particularly interested in how Whitaker will oversee the Mueller probe, given his past comments questioning the scope of the investigation. Trump told associates that he felt that Whitaker would be "loyal" and would not have recused himself from the Russian Federation probe as Sessions had done, according to two Republicans close to the White House not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
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"I am not concerned about anything with the Russian investigation, because it is a hoax", he said.
Critics worry Whitaker may be unlikely or unwilling to defend the investigation, given his history of partisanship and loyalty to Trump. "Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein must be allowed to protect the Special Counsel and insulate the investigation from interference by the White House".
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Trump denied he would shut down Mr Mueller's team, but still labelled the investigation an illegal "witch hunt" that had spent "millions" of dollars.
With control of the lower house of Congress, the Democrats have the power to order their own investigation into Trump's dealings with the Russians and other foreign governments.
On Thursday, the Acosta incident entered even more weird territory when the White House was accused of tweeting a video doctored to make the reporter appear more aggressive in fending off the female press aide who tried to remove his mic.