As hot Beltway rumors go, this one is extra spicy, but doesn’t appear to have very much meat on the bone. It started with an anonymously sourced story from Politico which claimed “department staffers” were suggesting that Jeff Sessions might be moved over from the Attorney General slot to replace departing General John Kelly at Homeland Security. Given all the scrutiny Sessions has been under, paired with conservative pushback against the idea of his being fired, it’s easy to see how this might look tempting to President Trump… at least in theory. Fox News runs down the potential scenario which could play out.
Could Attorney General Jeff Sessions end up at the Department of Homeland Security?
It’s an idea some political observers have been debating after President Trump announced Friday that John Kelly, who leads the department, would replace Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff…
Dana Perino, the former White House press secretary under George W. Bush, argued such an arrangement could placate conservatives who would be outraged if Sessions was ousted from the administration.
We didn’t need to wait long for Lindsey Graham to weigh in and he’s obviously not a fan of the supposed plan.
DHS Secretary Jeff Sessions doesn't sound right, doesn't feel right.
Bad idea. (2/2) https://t.co/nwt2phJHzC
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 29, 2017
So, as I said, you can hear the wheels spinning inside the heads of various politicos who are looking at this. One of the biggest selling points for keeping Sessions in the administration is his hard line stance on illegal immigration. Both ICE and Border Patrol fall under DHS and they are still law enforcement agencies (though very specific ones) so Sessions looks like a natural fit. At the same time (under this theory), the vacancy left at the Justice Department could be filled by someone who might not recuse themselves from the Russia, Russia, Russia investigation and possibly even fire Mueller.
This would be a blatantly obvious move and if Mueller actually did wind up getting a pink slip it would simply inflame all of the claims from the media and Democrats that Trump is trying to “obstruct justice” and shut down the investigation. It strikes me as an incredibly ham handed, unproductive strategy. And it would still be seen as something of a slap in the face to Sessions, who has done an admirable job and brings tremendous credibility to the Justice Department.
Of course, all of this speculation may be nothing more than that. The same Politico article which seemed to fuel all of the tongue-wagging went on to say that a person close to the Trump administration opined that Sessions was “unlikely to get the job.”
Far more intriguing are a couple of the other names being tossed around as a replacement for Kelly. The Democrats are already stiffening their backs against the idea of Sessions taking over at DHS because of his outspoken opposition to illegal immigration, so imagine the howling which will ensue if Trump nominates Thomas Homan (who was also suggested). He’s the acting head of ICE currently and you may know him for his recent statements suggesting that he might start arresting the mayors and municipal leaders of sanctuary cities. That would lead to some cranial explosions on the left to be sure.
Also mentioned was Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. He’s currently helping to run Trump’s voter fraud commission and is, if anything, even more of a hard line opponent of illegal immigration than Homan.
Either of those would set up a huge firefight in the confirmation process but could hopefully land at least fifty votes in the Senate. And both would be a vastly superior choice in the big picture rather than pushing Jeff Sessions over in a lateral move. He should probably stay right where he is and instead get the chance to work hand in hand with the new DHS secretary. We’ll close with the brief Fox News segment covering this edition of Rumor Mill Central.
Addendum (Ed): Speculation about this option began on Friday with the announcement of Kelly’s appointment to replace Priebus. Supposedly, Trump could simply shift Sessions over to DHS without another Senate confirmation hearing by using the Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, which allows a president to replace a Senate-confirmed officer of an executive agency with another appointee who already has been confirmed by the Senate for his/her existing position. That would presumably save Sessions from having to get another confirmation hearing for DHS.
Unfortunately for this speculation, that’s not the entire truth. The VRA explicitly only allows for such appointments as “acting” officers, not permanent appointments, as a way for presidents to ensure some continuity when positions become unexpectedly open. While Trump could try the maneuver described above, the appointment would only last for 210 days at most, according to section 3346 of the VRA. After that, Trump would have to have had someone appointed and confirmed specifically for that position. If Sessions was to be the permanent replacement for Kelly at DHS, he’d have to eventually go back before the Senate to keep the job — and the Senate would shred Sessions for taking part in any scheme that resulted in the firing of Mueller. But even apart from that, why would Sessions give up his confirmed status at his dream job of Attorney General for a temp job running DHS? After the public abuse he’s endured over the past week from Trump, I doubt Sessions feels like being that much of a loyal soldier.