He's a racist, homophobic misogynist with a hatred for pot and a love of private prisons. And Trump wants him gone. Normally we would too, but times are anything but normal.
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It seems strange to write a piece about Attorney General Jeff Sessions right now when the entirety of the United States is functionally on Jeff Sessions death watch. Will Trump fire him? When? How much damage to the country can Sessions do on his way out the door?
Trump is working so hard at humiliating Sessions that it is ugly to watch even if you are, like any decent person, utterly appalled by Sessions. The man should never have been named Attorney General in the first place, in no small part because he was deemed too racist for a federal judgeship 30 years ago, but dangling at the end of Trump’s tiny vicious fingers is no way to live either. Sessions should go down, but not this way. It’s mind-blowing to realize that Sessions may be fired for the one vaguely honorable thing he ever did in his rotten racist life: recuse himself from the Russia probe.
Make no mistake: Trump does not give one whit about Sessions’s job performance, save for the Russian probe. Oh, and maybe his failure to prosecute Hillary Clinton for all the crimes Trump has imagined she’s committed. But seriously, Trump has never raised any real questions about Sessions’s abilities. He’s been mad for months that Sessions recused himself from the Russian election interference investigation, thanks to Sessions being unable to remember all his election-season chats with Russians. (You’d think this would actually be something Trump thought of as a feature, not a bug, given how he seems fine that Junior and Jared talked to the Russians but forgot to tell anyone).
For awhile, Trump seemed to be fixated on hating, well, many other people and things, but of late he’s returned to loathing Sessions, telling the New York Times he wouldn’t have nominated him if he knew he’d recuse himself, and taking to Twitter to call him beleaguered and very weak in the not-prosecuting-Hillary department, dragging him in public every single day, including saying that “we will see what happens” and “time will tell,” Not exactly a ringing statement of job security.
So why does Sessions put up with it? We think of Paul Ryan as the one that would put up with anything just to get his agenda through, but sad-eyed Paul Ryan has nothing on Sessions, who will go through hell or high water just to enact his terrible policies about the drug war, private prisons, immigration, and forfeitures. In other words, Sessions really really hates people of color and poor people and immigrants, and being AG is the very best way to spread that hatred.
Almost within minutes of taking office, Sessions reversed an Obama-era rule that would have phased out the used of private prisons. Why? Because he believes that if we don’t have private prisons, we won’t have enough places to put all the prisoners. This is demonstrably not true, however. The federal prison population has been declining, so there’s room to be had in federal facilities without spilling over into the horro rshow of private prison facilities.
Sessions has a fix for this, however. We’ll need all those extra beds because he’s going to ramp up the war on drugs to 1980s levels. He has specifically ordered federal prosecutors to charge the most serious offense (also known as the top count) for every drug case. This, too, stands in direct contradiction to the policies of the Obama era, where then-Attorney General Eric Holder worked to decrease the length and severity of sentences, particularly for nonviolent drug offenders.
And the war on drugs was, and is, and will be, inherently racist, which is no doubt a bonus for Sessions. People of color are disproportionately arrested for drug use and routinely sentenced for longer periods. And a criminal conviction can destroy your future, all of which ensures those private prisons will stay full.
Sessions is happy to go after white people for their drug use as well, though, even if it is actually legal. In a letter to Congress that trotted out literally every hysterical trope imaginable (historic levels of crime! Smoking marijuana makes you psychotic! Medical marijuana dispensaries are a front for cartels!), Sessions indicated that he wants to prosecute medical marijuana users even in states where it is legal.
In Jeff Sessions’ world, you don’t even need to be charged with a crime to have your world completely overturned, because he’s going to bring back draconian civil forfeitures too. A civil asset forfeiture lets the government seize your property just because they suspect you of a crime. You need never be indicted nor convicted. According to Sessions, such a thing is necessary because it hurts cartels and helps defund organized crime. That’s not usually the case, though. Often, forfeitures hit poor people hardest, like in Philadelphia where the average amount forfeited was $192 and targeted, for example, people charged with low-level drug possession.
There’s another problem with forfeitures: they end up funding police departments, which means the police have a perverse incentive to go after more people. This might sound like a broken record, but of course Sessions’s actions here reverse what happened under Obama, where Eric Holder worked to scale back some of the more egregious civil forfeiture practices.
Even as everyone else spent Tuesday wondering if Jeff Sessions would still have a job by close of business, he was making yet another move, this time going after sanctuary cities. He made an announcement that certain law enforcement grants will not be extended to cities unless they (1) let ICE officers have access to their jails; (2) not block law enforcement from sharing immigration status information with ICE; (3) give ICE 48 hours notice before they release anyone with an ICE detainer.
It’s tempting to root for Sessions’ downfall in the hopes that these sorts of actions could be thwarted. But any possible replacement for Sessions will be just as bad. Trump has apparently kicked around the notion of nominating former New York City mayor and professional ghoul Rudy Giuliani to the spot if he tosses Sessions. The leading proponent of the broken windows theory of policing, where he ordered his police force to arrest people for the lowest-level infractions imaginable. It also led to an absolute epidemic of stop-and-frisk that targeted people of color, where nine out of every ten people stopped and frisked was completely innocent. Rudy will surely do everything Jeff Sessions would to make life demonstrably worse for many people in America.
Ted Cruz has been floated as a possible replacement too, but there is no universe where having Ted Cruz appointed to anything is a better idea than anything else.
If Trump decides to fire Sessions, there’s a very real chance he could appoint someone while the Senate was in recess. In theory, the Democrats could try to block a recess appointment by refusing to adjourn and keeping the Senate in session via a series of pro forma sessions every few days to prevent a full recess. (Per the Supreme Court, the Senate is not truly in recess unless it is shut down for a full ten days.) This isn’t a new tactic. Both Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell have employed it in the past to stymie recess appointment attempts. However, in order to get there in the first place, the Democrats would need to be able to filibuster any motion the majority makes to adjourn, and it’s unclear as to whether they would be successful at that with some procedural moves or whether they’d actually have to go full-on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and hold the floor.
If Trump does succeed at a recess appointment, that individul, be it Giuliani, Cruz, or another craven nightmare, would then serve until the end of the Senate term—January 2019—without needing any confirmation from the Senate. And it is guaranteed that Trump will only appoint someone who will do his bidding, fire special prosecutor Robert Mueller, and block any further Russia investigation.
It almost makes you want to root for Jeff Sessions to stick around.
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