Trump Fired His Most Effective Lieutenant

The outgoing attorney general did more to enact the president’s priorities than any other member of the Cabinet, but that didn’t save him from White House hostility.

The paradox of Jeff Sessions’s tenure as attorney general is that no member of the Trump administration was so beleaguered and disparaged by President Trump, but no member got as much done.

Even as he endured persistent verbal abuse from the president, Sessions steamed forward on a range of conservative social-policy priorities, aggressively reorienting the Justice Department’s stances on immigration, civil rights, and criminal justice, among other issues. In an administration plagued by incompetent and ineffective figures, Sessions was a paragon of efficacy—a distinction that horrified his many opponents, but did nothing to win Trump’s trust or affection.
  • When it came time for Trump to pull the plug on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as he had promised he would during the 2016 campaign, the president got cold feet, but Sessions was happy to be the public face of the withdrawal. It was Sessions who
  • tried to follow through (unsuccessfully) on Trump’s threat to cut off funding to sanctuary cities. It was Sessions who issued new guidance to immigration judges. And, most prominent, it was Sessions who
  • went to the border to announce the Trump administration’s decision to separate migrant children from their parents.
Sessions openly said the plan to split families up was intended to deter migrants, even as other administration officials said otherwise. The policy was met with widespread and appropriate horror, and Trump eventually pulled back—but he had backed the plan before that, and Sessions had followed through.

.. But these weren’t just Sessions’s pet issues. They were Trump’s as well. Hardline immigration policies, giving police free rein, fighting phantom voter fraud—these were all signature Trump projects. Sessions had been the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump, and Trump took from him a range of policy concepts—especially on immigration—as well as a top adviser, Stephen Miller.
But Sessions’s stewardship of those projects didn’t return him to favor with Trump, who, according to Bob Woodward’s book Fear, called Sessions “mentally retarded” and a “dumb Southerner.”

.. When McGahn’s departure was announced in August, I wrote that he’d been the most effective person in the West Wing, through his stewardship of judicial appointments. But Trump disliked and distrusted McGahn, and seemed eager to have him gone.
.. Of course, the same issue poisoned both Sessions’s and McGahn’s relationships with Trump: the Russia investigation, and especially Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s takeover of it.
.. Trump was angry that neither man had protected him. He raged at Sessions’s lack of “loyalty” and complained that Attorney General Eric Holder had “totally protected” Barack Obama. (What he meant by that is unclear.) He twice instructed McGahn to fire Mueller, and McGahn twice refused, once threatening to resign.
.. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker assumes control of Mueller’s probe. Whitaker was outspokenly critical of the special counsel’s inquiry before joining the administration, so Trump may now have a leader of the Justice Department who is more pliable on the Mueller front. But the president is unlikely to find an attorney general who will do as much to move his priorities forward as Sessions did—and the new attorney general will come into the job knowing that loyalty and efficacy aren’t enough to garner favor with Trump.

The Cuomo-Nixon Debate and the Definition of Politics

Kennedy was wrong historically, failing to anticipate the magnitude of the issues that would arise with the civil-rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the social movements of the coming decades. What’s worse, however, was that he was also wrong politically. In proclaiming the dawning of an era of technocrats, the era of competence and the search for the right solution, Kennedy was, in effect, declaring the end of politics.

.. As for Cuomo, he continuously invoked Trump: the question, he made clear, is who can best wage battle against the President, who, as Cuomo said, “is the main risk to New York; he is trying to change the rights and values of New Yorkers.” It’s a fair assessment of the situation, and a fair question. But taking on Trump is not a matter of having the best accountants and firefighters, or the best-articulated policy proposals: it is a matter of putting forward a vision that offers the opposite of the Trumpian pull of the imaginary past. That vision—the promise of something yet unknown—is, in fact, the stuff of politics.

 

This is the fight of our lives. Here’s how we win it.

Senators such as Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin need to argue to those who are ambivalent about abortion, or even against it, that right-wing judges would sanction a plutocratic government with little capacity to defend their interests.

.. “The Supreme Court, in case after case, is freely imposing its own view of sound public policy — not constitutional law, but public policy,” Biden told me at the time. “What is at issue here is a question of power, whether power will be exercised by an insulated judiciary or by the elected representatives of the people.”

..  Biden acknowledged that the phrase “judicial activism” has “often been used by conservatives to criticize liberal judges.” But “the shoe is plainly on the other foot: It is now conservative judges who are supplanting the judgment of the people’s representatives and substituting their own.”

“The existing Court’s assault on voting rights, collective bargaining and religious liberty is awful enough — just imagine how bad working people will have it if another right-wing justice joins the Court.” He warned of the court “taking a vicious, anti-worker, anti-women, anti-LGBT, anti-civil rights turn.”

.. The future of abortion rights is central to the coming battle. But so are civil rights, corporate power and our democratic capacity to correct social injustices. Conservatives should not be allowed to distract attention from the aspects of their agenda that would horrify even many who voted for Donald Trump.