Wednesday, May 30, 2018


The New York Times reports, unsurprisingly, that in March of last year President Trump urged Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal in the Russia investigation. Buried in the middle of the Times story is a detail that piqued the interest of Lawrence O'Donnell and John Heilemann on O'Donnell's show last night:
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: John Heilemann, we've noticed that Jeff Sessions has real friends among Republicans in the Senate. They certainly behaved that way during his confirmation. They got him through the challenges to his confirmation testimony, which some people thought included perjury. And here's another piece of the New York Times reporting tonight, which I think contains a new fact that maybe we believed but did not quite yet know. It said, "Mr. Trump complains to friends about how much he would like to get rid of Mr. Sessions but has demurred under pressure from Senate Republicans who have indicated they would not confirm a new attorney general." Now, John, I have not heard any Senate Republicans say that out loud publicly, but apparently they have said that to the president, they wouldn't confirm a new one.

JOHN HEILEMANN: Lawrence, I gotta say, sometimes you and I are in sync, because when I read this story, it was one of the things that jumped out at me. I thought, "That's a separate news story."

O'DONNELL: Yeah, it is.

HEILEMANN: That's a front-page story in The New York Times: Senate Republicans tell Trump if he gets rid of Sessions that they won't be able to confirm anybody else. Again, all of us have assumed that something like this was going on, but it's not been reported this way. And, you know, Jeff Sessions has a lot of Republican friends, and, weirdly, because of the stance he's taken, and because of the way he's upheld the institutional integrity of the Justice Department on this issue, he's got a lot of friends in the Democratic Party right now, too. Trump realizes there's almost no one in the Senate who would vote for anyone else, and so Jeff Sessions's job -- as much as Trump obviously hates him, and obviously wants to get rid of him, has announced it to the world -- Jeff Sessions may be the safest man in Washington, D.C., right now.

Do you believe this? According to the story, Republicans in the Senate "have indicated" that a Sessions replacement can't get confirmed -- but does that mean it's true? Is John Heilemann right to say that "there's almost no one in the Senate who would vote for anyone else"?

I know that senators are loyal to Senate colleagues and ex-colleagues. I know that there's pent-up resentment of Trump among Republicans. And I realize that if Sessions were to be fired now, it would hard to confirm a replacement -- in less fraught circumstances, it's difficult to get a major appointee confirmed this close to an election.

But I don't believe that Republicans would rebel. They don't want Trump firing Sessions because they want to avoid a constitutional crisis -- but if it were a fait accompli, would they dare to alienate their own voter base by defying Trump? In what other high-profile situation have they done that? Even if a few of them intended to take a stand, Trump would tweet and Fox hosts would fulminate, and resisters in the Senate would become sworn enemies of MAGA Nation.

And even if a few Republicans were willing to take the heat, it's possible that a handful of Democrats would make confirmation a real possibility. Imagine if Trump had fired Sessions in January of this year. Would Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Donnelly have voted no on a replacement? They all voted to confirm Gina Haspel as head of the CIA, as did three other Democrats. Why wouldn't they be gettable again?

I'm glad the president believes he could never get a replacement for Sessions confirmed. But that doesn't mean it's true.

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