There is little doubt about how President Trump feels about Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Since last week he has openly chided Sessions — first in an interview with the New York Times and then in a series of tweets that continued through Tuesday morning, and again at a press conference with the Lebanese prime minister.
When Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, was asked by a radio show host Tuesday whether Trump wants Sessions out, Scaramucci responded, “You’re probably right.”
The passive-aggressive nature of Trump’s disapproval of his attorney general is a bit out of character. Back in his reality TV days, disappointment with an underling was met with his favorite catchphrase: “You’re fired!” Not so here.
But why doesn’t Trump go ahead and fire Sessions if he’s so unhappy? Turns out it might be fairly difficult.
Logistically, he could do it. Each Cabinet member is nominated by the president and can be fired by the president. House Speaker Paul Ryan flatly told reporters Tuesday that it was “up to the president” if he wants to dismiss Sessions and that he wasn’t going to weigh in on the matter.
Politically, however, firing Sessions could be a problem. Trump acknowledged as much in a tweet.
Problem is that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
Why such a problem? Consider these three reasons.
Firing Sessions may not accomplish what Trump thinks it accomplishes
Trump may think that by firing Sessions, he could be paving the way for firing special counsel Robert Mueller and thus removing serious investigations into his past and his family’s past, particularly as they relate to Russia.
That logic goes like this: Since Sessions recused himself from all things Russia, he cannot fire Mueller. If Trump can replace Sessions with an attorney general who can oversee the Russia investigation, he can better control where that inquiry leads. Not to mention this new attorney general could just fire Mueller.
That may be wishful thinking. Firing Sessions means that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein becomes the acting attorney general. Rosenstein hired Mueller in the first place and is unlikely to fire him for political reasons. Plus, Rosenstein will stay in charge until the Senate confirms a new attorney general, and that could take a long time.
There is one way that Trump could get around this. He could make a so-called recess appointment if the Senate goes on vacation in August. That person would then be allowed to stay in office until January 2019.
But who would Trump pick to replace him? Both names that have been floated as potential successors — former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Texas Senator Ted Cruz — have said they aren’t interested. Any person he does pick would have to worry about making it through a Senate confirmation — and fret about how long it would be before Trump dumps them.
Further, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell could, if he wanted to, decide to not grant the Senate a recess next month. He’s already cut that recess down to just 10 days, saying that Senate business on health care and tax reform must be addressed.
It sends the wrong signal to other Cabinet members and Congressional allies
Trump must also consider the implications of what firing Sessions means to the rest of his Cabinet.
Sessions was the first member of the Senate to endorse Trump. In fact, for months he was the most high-profile endorsement Trump received at a time when his campaign needed validation. Sessions was all in. Then in the five months he has served as attorney general, he has done everything that Trump has asked. Well, everything except his decision to recuse himself from Russia matters.
This week, there are also questions about whether Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will resign. He is said to be frustrated with Trump. Firing Sessions could mean that Tillerson will want to leave before becoming the next person the president attacks.
Beyond the Cabinet, there is the question of what this means for Republican lawmakers. Trump has tweeted about Senate Republicans being loyal to the president as a reason why they should to vote to repeal Obamacare. But loyalty runs two ways. If Trump cannot even stay loyal to Sessions, why should they remain loyal in voting for an unpopular bill if the president could turn on them, too?
It further derails his agenda
Six months into Trump’s presidency, he has yet to sign a major piece of legislation. If he fires Sessions, it will likely begin a political firestorm that will consume Washington. This could make it even harder to get the political momentum to pass anything big anytime soon.