Sessions gets ready to defend Trump order

Sessions gets ready to defend Trump order
© Greg Nash

Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsLewandowski says he's 'happy' to testify before House panel The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Nadler subpoenas Lewandowski, former White House official for testimony MORE is stepping into the middle of a legal and political firefight.

The Alabama Republican, who was confirmed Wednesday evening to be attorney general, takes over a Justice Department locked in a battle over President Trump’s executive order targeting nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries. 

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Trump’s order has been on hold since Friday, when a federal judge suspended it from being enforced.

The move has enraged the president, who has repeatedly and publicly weighed in on the controversy by criticizing the judges who question his authority. Trump argued on Wednesday that even a “bad high school student” could understand the president has the authority and power to stop people from coming to the U.S. in the name of national security.

“If the U.S. does not win this case as it so obviously should, we can never have the security and safety to which we are entitled. Politics!” he tweeted on Wednesday.

The drama marks an early test for Sessions, who has taken a hard line on immigration and given no indication that he’ll push back against the order.

In fact, White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, who helped put together the controversial order, is a former communications director and adviser to Sessions.

Sessions was Trump’s first supporter in the Senate, a pivotal moment for the business mogul that offered establishment support for his insurgent presidential campaign.

Sessions appeared at campaign events with the then-candidate and publicly urged his GOP colleagues to join him.

Immigration was the issue that appeared to unite Trump and Sessions.

Trump took the toughest approach to illegal and legal immigration of any GOP candidate in the primaries — a stance that many thought would doom him in the general election.

Similarly, there is perhaps no one in the Senate who has advocated for tougher immigration laws than Sessions. Trump’s election was very much a victory for the Sessions wing of the GOP.

Sessions previously warned that terrorists could use the refugee program to sneak into the country — something Trump has echoed — and pressed the Obama administration for details on nationals he had pegged as potential terrorists.

In mid-2016, his office said the Justice Department gave a subcommittee the Alabama Republican oversaw a list of 580 individuals “not only implicated but convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offenses” between 9/11 and the end of 2014.

Sessions also said a House-passed bill in late 2015 that would have temporarily paused the acceptance of Syrian and Iraqi refugees didn’t go far enough.

“[The House bill] fails to defend the interests of the American people,” he said at the time. “It is based on a flawed premise, as there is simply no way to vet Syrian refugees.”

Sessions’s closeness to Trump was used against him in a confirmation process in which Democrats argued that he would not be a check on the administration if it tried to skirt the law.

“The United States attorney general enforces the principles that are the founding of our country, but I have seen no evidence in his record or testimony that Sen. Sessions will approach this office in furtherance of these noble ideals,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said.

She noted that acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a holdover from President Obama’s administration, refused to defend Trump’s order — an act of insubordination that led Trump to fire her.

Republicans defended Sessions on Wednesday, arguing that despite lining up with Trump on certain issues, he wouldn’t position himself as an “arm of the White House.”

“That’s not the job of the attorney general,” said John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy O'Rourke says he will not 'in any scenario' run for Senate MORE (Texas) — the Senate’s No. 2 Republican. “That’s one reason I feel so strongly that Sen. Sessions will be an outstanding attorney general, because I believe he will restore the Department of Justice to an institution that believes in and enforces the rule of the law above politics.”

Sessions will immediately take over the Justice Department’s defense of Trump’s order.

A federal appeals court is expected to make a decision soon on whether to lift the temporary suspension of the order, which was imposed as legal arguments surrounding it went forward.

Justice Department attorneys made their case to the court on Tuesday evening during a sometimes-contentious hearing conducted over the phone.

Senate hearings on Sessions’s confirmation took place before the order was imposed, and he has since avoided questions on the subject.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Graham moves controversial asylum bill through panel; Democrats charge he's broken the rules MORE (D-Vt.), who worked with Sessions on the Judiciary Committee, noted this week that he hadn’t received a response from Sessions to questions about his position on the ban.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Tenn.), who demurred last week when asked whether the order was lawful, brushed off questions about whether Sessions would be willing to buck Trump.

“I’ve watched Sessions take positions with us where he was the only one taking that position,” he told The Hill. “I don’t really worry about his independence.”