“It’s better to seek forgiveness,” the saying goes, “than to ask permission.” Asking Sessions’s buddies to side with you over him is dicey. Some, like Grahamnesty, will cast a hard eye on who can do more for them politically and choose accordingly, but not everyone will. By asking for their support, you’re alerting the pro-Sessions wing to mobilize in his defense.
If you just fire the guy and then dare McConnell and the gang to block your choice of replacement with the midterms impending, knowing how populists will bristle if they do, you’re more likely to get your way.
Maybe he’s just checking the box here, doing them a courtesy by letting them know that Sessions’s days are numbered so that they’re not caught off-guard when it happens. He’s not “asking permission,” in other words. He’s serving notice.
The willingness of Republican senators to turn on Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the result of a furious lobbying campaign from President Donald Trump, who for the past 10 days has been venting his anger at Sessions to “any senator who will listen,” as one GOP Senate aide put it.
The president, who has spent a year and a half fulminating against his attorney general in public, finally got traction on Capitol Hill thanks to the growing frustration of a handful of GOP senators with their former colleague – most importantly, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who have been irritated by Sessions’ opposition to a criminal justice reform bill they support, according to interviews with more than a half-dozen congressional GOP aides, Trump advisers, and Republicans close to the White House.
Ah, so that’s the trigger. Graham isn’t thrilled with Sessions’s zero-tolerance approach to immigration either, of course. GOP politics nowadays is viewed through a lens of Trump versus his personal enemies, but for Republicans with actual policy differences with Sessions, his feud with Trump is a convenient way to nudge him towards the exit while letting POTUS take all the heat. Don’t like having a border-enforcing hard-ass as AG but don’t want to make too much of an issue of that when you’re up for reelection in two years? Then just say that the Trump/Sessions relationship is irredeemably toxic and must end.
As for the risk that firing Sessions will add another arrow to Mueller’s quiver, Politico says Trump’s lawyers have concluded that that quiver’s already full. After browbeating Sessions publicly for a year for failing to “protect” him on Russiagate, Trump’s already made his desire for Sessions to shut down the probe abundantly clear. The cake on obstruction is as baked as it’s going to be. Actually firing him will just be a little added icing at this point.
A … provocative quote from later in the piece:
If Sessions’ recusal was his original sin, Trump has come to resent him for other reasons, griping to aides and lawmakers that the attorney general doesn’t have the Ivy League pedigree the president prefers, that he can’t stand his Southern accent and that Sessions isn’t a capable defender of the president on television — in part because he “talks like he has marbles in his mouth,” the president has told aides.
Very populist, baby. I thought for sure the uniform reaction from MAGA Nation to that claim today would be “fake news!” but was surprised to see one prominent Trumper seem credulous:
Very unwise if @realDonaldTrump is criticizing Sessions’ accent and legal pedigree—unless POTUS wants to offend his most ardent ‘Bama supporters.
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) August 30, 2018
His alleged distaste for southern accents is new to me but his alleged affection for Ivy League credentials has been reported before. It was a staple of the inside coverage of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. Kavanaugh was the only one of the shortlisters with a Harvard/Yale pedigree, which you would think would be a liability to a guy who got elected president by claiming that well-educated elites are actually moronic snobs who’d run the country into the ground. What he really meant during the campaign, I guess, was that he’d choose an entirely different class of moronic snobs to govern America. No more ill-bred Mayberry hicks like Sessions for him! The next AG will be a Harvard man, a guy so palpably impressed with his own intellect that he can’t help but irritate the hell out of everyone who encounters him. I wonder if Trump knows any guys like that.
As for POTUS’s alleged contempt for a southern accent, lefties are using it as a smoking gun that shows he’s actually a big fat snob himself, every inch the sneering moneybags from Manhattan. Eh, to believe that he disdains southerners *as a rule* you need to believe that he’s capable of disliking people who really, really like him. I don’t think his mind functions that way. In the Trump worldview, if you’re pro-Trump then you’re a quality person by definition. The accent thing is likely more a case of Trump disliking Sessions personally for having recused himself from Russiagate and letting that dislike lead him to scrutinize Sessions’s particular personal quirks unfavorably. I’m sure he’s goofed on some of his enemies privately for being fat or bald or short or whatever. (“Little Marco!”) Doesn’t mean he has it out for short bald fatties, it just means that he’s juvenile about his feuds and will fight with any weapon to hand. If he names Lindsey Graham his new AG and Graham turns around and blows up the Russiagate, he’ll find Grahamnesty’s southern accent synonymous with penetrating intelligence. With Trump everything is transactional, even/especially his contempt.
I wouldn’t bet too heavily on Graham as Sessions’s replacement, though. Here he is this morning noting that he found Trump’s handling of McCain’s passing this week “disturbing.” Exit question: What if the axe falls on Sessions after the midterms and he decides that he wants back into the Senate? Doug Jones’s term expires in two years; Sessions would have plenty of time to mount a campaign and would certainly be a heavy favorite against Jones in the general election. Could he win a primary, though, now that Trump has spent the past year calling him a disloyal garbage AG who won’t investigate Democrats? If he was opposed by (deep breath) Roy Moore, would Trump grit his teeth and reluctantly endorse Sessions, fearing that Moore winning the nomination would end in another squandered opportunity against Jones?