Some top Republican lawmakers are urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resist any pressure to quit following criticism from President Trump, and to stay in the job at least through the midterm elections.
The same morning as Mr. Trump was venting his frustration at the Justice Department, five Republican senators met Mr. Sessions last Thursday for breakfast in his personal dining room on the fifth floor of the department’s headquarters. Their message: hang in there despite Mr. Trump’s broadsides, according to senators and aides.
Why in the world would senators care if Sessions resigned before or after the midterm election? The only reason is to conceal from voters until the polls close on Nov. 6. the constitutional crisis that Trump and Senate Republicans are willing to drag us through if Sessions resigns (or is fired).
It would go like this: Sessions leaves. Trump either appoints someone who has already been Senate confirmed (thereby bypassing the Senate under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act) or finds someone from whom he can extract that pledge of loyalty he thinks is owed to him. The new AG will then fire Robert S. Mueller III or restrain his investigation or pull his clearance. The president will have cut short the only viable investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s role, if any, in that attack on our democracy. What then? Perhaps a Democratic House (if the GOP’s loses the majority) will impeach but these Republicans, the current and likely winners in the midterms, we have learned are unwilling to check the president and would not, even if he shot the proverbial man on Fifth Avenue, vote to remove him.
This is not merely theoretical. The Post reports, “President Trump, who levied extraordinary public attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions in recent weeks, has privately revived the idea of firing him in conversations with his aides and personal lawyers this month, according to three people familiar with the discussions.”
Republicans sure don’t want voters to see that or Sessions’s resignation play out before the November vote. Democrats in that case might not only win the House but also the Senate. No, better to leave the constitutional train wreck for after the election when there is no obvious or immediate recourse, they figure.
Republican Sens. John Cornyn (Tex.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and John Kennedy (La.) imparted this advice to Sessions, we are told. None is on the ballot — wouldn’t you know! — in November but plenty of their colleagues and would-be colleagues are. Republicans in essence are telling us not to trust them. We should ignore after 18 months of spinelessness, that Republicans are not prepared to stand between the president and constitutional chaos.
Alas so-called moderates such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), aside from health care, haven’t been willing to defy their party. The only protection left to voters, then, would be a Democratic majority. If voters end the Republicans’ majority in the Senate, they thereby could cut off one avenue (i.e., GOP confirmation of a Trump flunky) Trump might use to save himself from the special counsel. A drubbing in the Senate as well as in the House might also stiffen some GOP spines more generally with regard to oversight, confirmation and even impeachment.
But you say, Sasse just recently went to the floor to say, “I find it really difficult to envision any circumstance where I would vote to confirm a successor to Jeff Sessions if he is fired because he’s executing his job rather than choosing to act as a partisan hack.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says it is fine to fire Sessions as long as Trump leaves the special prosecutor in place. C’mon.
Has Sasse taken a single vote on any issue of consequence at odds with the president? The man writes a lot of witty tweets. He’s yet to stand up to Trump when it mattered. Does Graham really think a new AG wouldn’t act to tie the special counsel’s hands? He surely cannot be that gullible.
Here’s how Republicans can show they are serious about protecting Mueller and the rule of law: Bring to the floor and pass the legislation voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee to protect Mueller. (Tillis actually voted for it.) Better yet, go on record with a resolution to warn the president that firing Sessions, Rosenstein or Mueller would be grounds to begin impeachment proceedings.
If Republicans really intend to head off a constitutional crisis they’d take these two steps. If not, they are simply angling to keep their Senate majority and put off for a few months a constitutional crisis that they will be unwilling to defuse.