Before most people had finished their coffee on Tuesday morning, the White House had made it abundantly clear to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that President Trump wants his chief law enforcement officer gone. But what happens if Trump gets his wish is another question entirely.
Trump began the day by blasting Session on Twitter -- again -- this time for failing to launch a prosecution of Trump’s most high profile political rival, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. “Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!” he wrote, continuing a days-long string of insinuation and abuse directed at Sessions.
But the suggestion that Sessions should be packing his bags went beyond just Trump. On Tuesday morning Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, appeared on the Hugh Hewitt radio show, where he was asked about the tension between the two men.
“I think him and Jeff — sorry, Attorney General Sessions — need to work this thing out,” he told Hewitt.
The host followed up by asking Scaramucci if it was correct to read Trump’s tweets and other comments about Sessions, including a New York Times interview last week in which he said he regretted appointing the Attorney General, as meaning that the president “wants him gone.”
“I do know the president pretty well, and if there's this level of tension in the relationship that's public, you're probably right,” Scaramucci said, before adding the caveat, “But I don't want to speak for the president on that because he's a Cabinet official and I sort of think that has to be between the president of the United States and the Cabinet official.”
Later in the morning, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked a similar question on Fox News, and replied, “Look, I know that he is frustrated and certainly disappointed in the attorney general for recusing himself but, as we've said, I think that's a decision that if the president wants to make, he certainly will. … That frustration certainly hasn't gone away, and I don't think it will.”
At this point, it isn’t clear whether or not Sessions will resign, or force Trump to fire him. But regardless, the situation seems untenable.
That leads to the question: What happens when Sessions makes his seemingly inevitable exit?
The short answer is that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, second-in-command to Sessions at the Department of Justice, will take over. But that’s unlikely to satisfy Trump, who has also criticized Rosenstein, implying that he has Democratic sympathies, despite the fact that it was Trump himself who appointed him to his current position.
If Sessions were out of the picture, Trump would be within his rights as chief executive to appoint a replacement. But, even assuming that Trump can find a qualified candidate to replace Sessions, he might have a hard time getting that person through a Senate confirmation process. That’s because even members of his own party are beginning to suspect that his ultimate goal is to install an attorney general willing to fire Robert Mueller, the former FBI director now serving as special counsel in charge of investigating the Trump campaign’s alleged connections to the Russian government.
One option that Trump would have, at least theoretically, is to wait for the Senate to go into recess and then appoint an Attorney General under his recess appointment authority. That would give his nominee the same authority as a Senate-confirmed attorney general until the opening of the next Congress in January 2019.
On Tuesday morning, however, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that his party, which has little power as the minority in the Senate, would not allow that to happen. Among the Democrats’ remaining levers is the unanimous consent decree, which is necessary for the Senate to function without an overwhelming number of time-consuming votes.
In a floor speech Tuesday, Schumer said the Democrats would empty their parliamentary arsenal before they would allow Trump the luxury of a recess appointment to the attorney general post.
“Many Americans must be wondering if the president is trying to pry open the office of Attorney General to appoint someone during the August recess who will fire Special Counsel Mueller and shut down the Russian investigation,” Schumer said. “First, let me state for the record now, before this scheme gains wings, Democrats will never go along with the recess appointment if that situation arises. We have some tools in our toolbox to stymie such action. We're ready to use every single one of them, any time, day or night. It's so vital to the future of the republic.”