To understand why the Democrats have chosen to attack Senator Jeff Sessions’s nomination for attorney general in a particularly ruthless and unhinged fashion, one needs only remember the Willie Sutton Rule — Sutton famously robbed banks because “that’s where the money is.”
The Democrats are attacking Jeff Sessions because the Department of Justice is where the power is. For many years now, but particularly under President Obama, The Democrats the have wielded this power against ordinary Americans. They’ve defined justice in ways that have no relationship to American laws as written. They’ve stacked the DOJ’s bureaucracy with leftist activists. And they’ve used the DOJ as a cudgel with which to beat their political enemies while handing out privileges and preferences to groups they favor. Jeff Sessions is going to put a stop to this without apology or equivocation, and that’s why he is the most fundamental threat to leftist power of any of Trump’s cabinet nominees.
Don’t pay any attention to the head-fakes that the Democrats have made signaling their supposed opposition to Trump’s other nominees. The Democrats will be happy to get scalps where they can, but doing so is not central to their long-term political strategy. Stopping or at least badly damaging Sessions is. He’s a threat to an entire politics of grievance that is at the core of the Democratic party. That’s why you’re seeing a sit-in in his office, and why you’re getting left-wing activist “street theater” during his confirmation hearings. That’s why the mainstream media has been on a vendetta to paint him as some sort of closet Klansman.
The Trump team recognizes the high stakes — a defeat of Sessions would be the repudiation of the one senator who was an early supporter of the campaign — one who gave credibility to the campaign with conservatives because of his acknowledged mastery of policies and issues too often forgotten by the GOP establishment.
It’s no coincidence that the Democrats are trotting out Cory Booker — until last week, the only African-American Democratic senator, and a man who was full of public praise for Sessions earlier this year — to engage in the unprecedented act of testifying against another senator’s confirmation to a cabinet post. Booker referenced the “the immense powers of the attorney general combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee” as his reason for opposing Sessions. Senator Sessions will ensure that the DOJ acts in the interest of justice rather than “justice” as defined by President Obama’s DOJ.
Movement conservatives should understand the high stakes of the Sessions nomination. In an op-ed in Politico, Senator Ted Cruz has come out with a full-throated defense of Sessions.
Cruz noted: “The Obama Department of Justice openly ignored the laws it didn’t like. . . . The DOJ has sunk to extraordinary depths. And Senator Sessions has been there every step of the way, exposing the seedy underbelly of the administration.”
It’s not an accident that California, ground zero of the resistance to the president-elect, has hired President Obama’s former attorney general, Eric Holder, for advice about how it can most effectively fight the federal government under President Trump. While it is pleasing to see the Democrats rediscover the wisdom of federalism, that wisdom does not allow California to defy federal law.
Sessions is the canary in the coal mine for conservatives in the Trump administration: If his confirmation is not looking healthy, the entire conservative prospect under a President Trump could soon take ill. Of course, he is not perfect, and like anyone with decades of experience in public life, he has made mistakes, but on the vast majority of policy issues that should concern conservatives, he’s been a leader. He’s served for more than 20 years in the U.S. Senate without controversy or rancor, and for the Democrats to engage in pearl-clutching — as if they only now have discovered that their formerly valued and respected colleague is some sort of Klansman from Meryl Streep’s nightmares — is absurd.
As Margaret Thatcher once said, “This is no time to go wobbly.” Jeff Sessions has the right friends — and the right enemies. He should be confirmed swiftly and with the unanimous support of his GOP colleagues. At the same time conservatives need to apply pressure to the ten Democratic Senators up for 2018 reelection in states that voted for Trump. These so-called moderates were silent through the lawless years of the Obama DOJ — if they suddenly discover their love of “justice” through opposition to Senator Sessions, voters need to be reminded where they stand come election time.
Senator Booker, in explaining his upcoming testimony against Sessions, said, “This is one of the more consequential appointments in American history right now.” And on that, both Senator Booker and conservatives can find grounds for agreement.
— Jeremy Carl is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.