Ben Sasse: I can't imagine voting to confirm a new AG if Trump fires Sessions because he won't be a "partisan hack"

Think what you want about Sasse but in a 50-49 Senate this needs to be taken seriously. Especially since he’s not the only Republican warning Trump lay off the AG as rumors swirl that he’ll be axed after the midterms.

The Sasse floor speech came about an hour after Sen. Susan Collins told reporters that she would discourage Trump from ousting Sessions, given the president’s repeated criticism over his decision to step aside from the investigation of Russian election meddling (ultimately leading to the appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III).

“It certainly would send the wrong message,” the Maine Republican said. “Because the basis of the president’s criticism of the attorney general is that he recused himself, appropriately so, from the Russia investigation.”

“I don’t see the president being able to get someone else confirmed as attorney general were he to fire Jeff Sessions,” she said.

If Sasse and Collins are true to their words (big if) then McConnell starts with 48 votes for Sessions’s replacement — and that assumes Flake and Corker, two longtime nemeses of POTUS, will both vote yes. And if in fact Trump waits until after the midterms to fire him, all of the red-state Democrats who are nervous right now about crossing him won’t care anymore at that point. Their races will have already been run. Maybe the GOP will have a strong enough showing on Election Day that there’ll be 52 Republicans or more in the Senate next year, making Sasse’s and Collins’s votes irrelevant. But that’s contingent on them being the only defectors within the caucus. No matter how well the GOP does in the Senate in November, the party’s unlikely to pad its margin by more than a few seats. McConnell will have little room for error next year even in a best-case scenario.

Which means that, for once, the president may be hostage to Congress rather than vice versa. His best hope for getting a loyalist confirmed to replace Sessions might come, ironically, if Democrats blow the roof off in November and reclaim a majority in the Senate next year. If that happens, Sasse, Collins, and all the other Trump skeptics will come under tremendous pressure during the lame-duck session to confirm Trump’s choice for new AG knowing that Chuck Schumer will soon have veto power over the appointment. What will they do?

Never mind the Senate. What will the public do if Sessions is canned? Reading this NBC piece, I hadn’t realized how developed lefty plans were for political action if Mueller is fired. There obviously won’t be the same uproar on the left if a longtime conservative enemy like Sessions is fired instead, but Sessions’s political demise would clear the way for Trump to nominate an attorney general who’ll wrest control of the investigation from Rod Rosenstein and possibly rein Mueller in. Firing Sessions is the next best thing to firing the special counsel. What will the Resistance do then?

Almost immediately [after Mueller is fired], Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer would consult with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, while Democrats would demand a floor vote on a bill retroactively protecting Mueller and protecting his materials. In both the Senate and House, rank-and-file Democrats would contact a list of sympathetic Republicans who have signaled privately that they’d be willing to act should Trump pull the trigger…

And in cities across the country, rallies would be hastily scheduled for 5 p.m., if Mueller is fired before 2 p.m. on any given day. If he’s fired in the late afternoon or evening, the protests would be set for noon the following day…

Coons predicted that “within minutes” of a Mueller firing, dozens of Republicans would either voice opposition publicly or phone the president or his chief of staff to register their objection privately. But he acknowledged that many Republicans have been coy, refusing to say even behind closed doors what actions they’d be willing to take.

Yeah, I wouldn’t wager too heavily on an outcry from congressional Republicans. Sasse is a safe bet, though. Interestingly, he says in the clip below that he’s communicated his message about Sessions directly to Trump himself, which must have been … some conversation. (I wonder if he’s also communicated it to Lindsey Graham, the man chiefly responsible for today’s “Sessions is on his way out” rumors.) I continue to believe that Sasse (a) won’t run for reelection, knowing that he’s likely to lose his primary for the sin of criticizing Trump too frequently, and (b) remains the most likely 2020 primary challenger to Trump, with all apologies to Jeff Flake. Stay tuned.

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David Strom 2:31 PM on October 04, 2022
David Strom 1:31 PM on October 04, 2022