As the net that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has cast starts closing in, Trump is looking for ever more drastic ways to stop Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion. He’s very unhappy that Jeff Sessions recused himself from that investigation, and openly said that he wouldn’t have given Sessions the job of attorney general to begin with if he’d known what was going to happen. As such, speculation has been rampant that Trump is looking to fire Sessions and replace him with someone more…cooperative.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned Trump not to consider firing Sessions and making a recess appointment to replace him, but worries still lingered that Trump would do just that.
So the Senate unanimously agreed to nine pro-forma sessions during the August recess, meaning that they’re technically not in recess. These sessions happen every three business days, last about a minute, and only require a Senator from the majority party to preside. Trump can still fire Sessions, but he can’t make a recess appointment to replace him. He does have two other options—DOJ succession rules and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act—but the former would put Rod Rosenstein in charge pending confirmation of a new attorney general, and the latter may not apply when someone is fired.
The recess appointment would have been his best option, and the Senate took that away from him before leaving town.
This is not a new thing for the Senate to do. It’s how they blocked President Obama from appointing a new Supreme Court justice during the August recess last year. The difference between that situation and this one, though, is that Obama wasn’t looking to fire people who he’d decided weren’t loyal enough and replace them with sycophants who would do his bidding.
That’s what Trump is trying to do. He wants Sessions gone and he wants to replace him with someone who will get rid of Mueller and hopefully, the Russia investigation. Fortunately, at least in this case, Senate Republicans still have enough presence of mind to understand that recess appointments under Trump—when we know he’s looking to fire Sessions for not being loyal enough—are dangerous.
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