Senate GOP steps up defense of Sessions

Senate GOP steps up defense of Sessions
© Getty Images

Senate Republicans are getting more aggressive in fighting back at President Trump’s attacks on Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsConservatives moving to impeach Rosenstein soon: report Senators urge DOJ to probe whether Russians posed as Islamic extremist hackers to harass US military families The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies for Putin summit: 'He’s not my enemy’ MORE.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Health Care: Watchdog finds Tom Price improperly used funds on flights | Ex-Novartis CEO sent drug pricing proposal to Cohen | HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts: report Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs MORE (R-S.C.) says there will be “hell to pay” if Sessions is fired, while Sen. Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyKavanaugh paper chase heats up Kavanaugh gets questionnaires for confirmation hearing Franken offers Dems a line of questioning for Kavanaugh's 'weirdly specific bit of bulls---' MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, warned he won’t hold hearings to confirm a successor to Sessions.

“The agenda for the judiciary [committee] is set for the rest of 2017. Judges first subcabinet 2nd/ AG no way,” he tweeted.

Senate Republicans also quickly slammed the door on the possibility that Trump could use recess appointment powers to get around Grassley.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies for Putin summit: 'He’s not my enemy’ Overnight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Lawmakers demand answers from Mnuchin on tariffs | Fed chief lays out stakes of Trump trade war | Consumer prices rise at highest rate in six years | Feds to appeal AT&T merger ruling MORE (R-Ariz.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, who said Republicans will hold pro-forma sessions every few days to block Trump from making recess appointments.

“If we have to stay in session to protect Sessions, we’d do so,” he said.

Trump’s rough treatment of Sessions, who was the first senator to endorse his presidential campaign last year — and for months was the only member of the upper chamber to back his unorthodox candidacy — has unsettled many Republican senators.

It’s more evidence of what they see as the president’s mercurial nature and his disdain for Washington’s conventions.   

A senior GOP aide said Trump’s consideration of a recess appointment to replace Sessions was completely out of step with the Senate recent tradition of holding pro-forma sessions every few days of a break to prevent such action.

If the chamber convenes every few days — even for a few minutes — then it is not, technically, on recess and, therefore, the president cannot make recess appointments. 

The heated back-and-forth between Trump and Republican senators over Sessions came at a delicate moment, as Senate GOP leaders sought to win passage of an ObamaCare repeal bill. Their effort failed after three Republicans — all of whom have tangled with Trump — voted against it.

Trump’s rhetoric appears to have hurt more than helped him with senators.

“This effort to basically marginalize and humiliate the attorney general is not going over well in the Senate. I don’t think it’s going over well in the conservative world,” Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters Thursday. “If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay.”

Grassley’s move found few if any critics in the GOP conference. In fact, many rushed to back him up. One GOP senator called his tweet “masterful.”

The use of pro forma sessions to block recess appointments isn’t unusual.

Then Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick The dishonesty of the deep state The SCOTUS nomination clearly demonstrates that elections have consequences MORE (Nev.) insisted on such pro-forma sessions in 2007 to block President George W. Bush from making recess appointments and Republicans did the same under President Obama.

What’s unusual here, is that Republicans are vowing to use the tactic to thwart a president from their own party.

Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), one of the Senate’s most senior Republicans, said Trump’s criticism of Sessions is out of line.

“It’s a mistake for the president. I don’t think you should be brutalizing Sessions or anybody, someone who’s been loyal to him,” said Shelby, who often worked closely with Sessions when he served in the Senate.

Trump has repeatedly expressed his frustration and disappointment with Sessions for recusing himself from the Department of Justice’s investigation of Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election.

Senate Republicans, however, are defending his decision, noting he followed department guidelines.

Sessions served as a senior advisor to Trump’s campaign.

“I would hope the president would want Sessions to stay on because I think ultimately he did the right thing in recusing himself,” Shelby added.

Republicans are acting partly out of friendship to Sessions but also out of concern that Trump may be laying the groundwork to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is leading the investigation of possible collusion between Russian agents and Trump’s inner circle of family and advisers.

They worry Trump might pick a new attorney general who would go on to dismiss Mueller.

Graham warned that such a move could provoke a constitutional crisis.

He is working on legislation would require judicial review of any presidential decision to fire a special counsel to determine whether it complied with the law.

He predicted it would have a large number of Republican and Democratic co-sponsors.

“Any effort to go after Mueller could be beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong. Right now I have no reason to believe Mueller is compromised,” Graham warned.