Photographers caught a giddy Jeff Sessions cracking a satisfied smile last week as he prepared to announce that 690,000 undocumented immigrants who had been brought into the United States as minors would no longer be shielded from deportation.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program “is being rescinded,” the attorney general declared in the first line of his statement. “There is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws. . . . Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism. . . . The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”
Fact checkers called these and other claims Sessions made about the immigrants known as “dreamers” dubious or outright false. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t take questions afterward. Regardless, the speech was widely covered as a triumph for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and a sign that he was out of President Trump’s doghouse. Not only did Sessions get the outcome he wanted; he also got to deliver the news from the Justice Department briefing room.
Trump’s DACA decision last week seemed to validate Sessions’s decision to slog on through the summer even after being frozen out of the inner circle. From interviews to tweets, Trump repeatedly attacked his attorney general throughout July as “weak” and “beleaguered.”
The main reason Sessions chose to put up with indignities that might cause most people to quit was because he believed he could make a difference on immigration policy. That has always been his signature issue and animated his two decades in the Senate.
• But it took less than 10 days for Trump to once again undercut Sessions. The president on Thursday signaled his embrace of granting permanent legal status to these “dreamers” as part of a deal with Democrats that he said is close to being finalized. He also acknowledged that he’s not going to make a deal to save DACA contingent on getting funding for the wall he wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Discussing the exact same group of people that Sessions painted with such a sinister brush one week earlier, Trump tweeted Thursday:
Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
…They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own – brought in by parents at young age. Plus BIG border security
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
• Adding insult to injury, the New York Times reported Thursday night that Trump “berated” Sessions during an Oval Office meeting this spring. “Accusing Mr. Sessions of ‘disloyalty,’ Mr. Trump unleashed a string of insults on his attorney general,” Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report. “Mr. Trump told Mr. Sessions that choosing him to be attorney general was one of the worst decisions he had made, called him an ‘idiot,’ and said that he should resign. . . . Ashen and emotional, Mr. Sessions told the president he would quit and sent a resignation letter to the White House . . . Mr. Sessions would later tell associates that the demeaning way the president addressed him was the most humiliating experience in decades of public life.”
Here’s how the May 17 meeting went down: The president blames Sessions’s recusal from the Russia investigation for the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. Sessions was in the Oval Office with Vice President Mike Pence, White House Counsel Don McGahn and others to discuss who should be tapped to replace James Comey as FBI director. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein called McGahn during the meeting to say that he was going to name Mueller that evening. Trump erupted when he learned the news.
“An emotional Mr. Sessions told the president he would resign and left the Oval Office,” the Times reports. “In the hours after the Oval Office meeting, however, Mr. Trump’s top advisers intervened to save Mr. Sessions’s job. Mr. Pence; Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist at the time; and Reince Priebus, his chief of staff, all advised that accepting Mr. Sessions’s resignation would only sow more chaos inside the administration and rally Republicans in Congress against the president. . . . The president relented, and eventually returned the resignation letter to Mr. Sessions.”
• A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment on both the president’s DACA comments and the Times’s story.
• Rachel Maddow asked Hillary Clinton on her TV show Thursday night about Trump’s eruption at Sessions. “Well, look, this is a man who engages in humiliation and domination as a tactic of control,” replied the 2016 Democratic nominee, who is giving a flurry of interviews to promote her new book. “I think that’s pretty deeply embedded in his character. . . . I think the goal might well have been, psychologically, to really make Jeff Sessions, who is a very proud man, . . . more dependent on pleasing the president. . . . It’s all part of his manipulation.”
• Sessions believed at the start of this year that he and the incoming president were genuinely friends. He was the first member of the Senate to endorse Trump’s outsider campaign. It stung this summer when the president told reporters that he only backed him because of his popularity in Alabama. Sessions felt like he had really gone out on a limb and snubbed Ted Cruz, a friend and colleague, to do so.
• The thrice-married Trump has long struggled with staying loyal, even to people he once loved. As the Post’s Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker wrote last weekend after the debt ceiling deal, Trump has a long history of broken alliances and agreements: “In business, his personal life, his campaign and now his presidency, Trump has sprung surprises on his allies with gusto. His dealings are frequently defined by freewheeling spontaneity, impulsive decisions and a desire to keep everyone guessing – especially those who assume they can control him. He also repeatedly demonstrates that, while he demands absolute loyalty from others, he is ultimately loyal to no one but himself. . . . Foreign diplomats euphemistically describe the president as ‘unpredictable.' ”
• “Trump and Democrats strike DACA deal. Yes? No? Sort of? Trump’s world can be confusing,” by Ashley Parker: “On Wednesday night, in a Blue Room dinner at the White House with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Calif., the president reached a tentative agreement with the Democratic leaders . . . But even as Trump careens toward the sort of immigration deal that has eluded previous presidents – the latest capstone to a period of 10 days of sustained bipartisan overtures – the process exhibits certain Trumpian hallmarks: namely, a lack of clarity . . .
“Often, Trump’s underlings, friends, foes and allies never know quite where he stands – in part because of the president’s penchant for telling his immediate audience exactly what they want to hear in any given moment. People who meet with the president frequently leave buoyed, an optimism punctured by a nagging question mere hours later: What just happened? . . . On Wednesday evening, as news of the agreement trickled out, Hill staffers sat glued to Twitter trying to discern that very query as aides to both sides scrambled to explain what, in the end, turned out to be disagreements that were largely semantics.”
• “House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R., Wis.) dismissed the potential deal . . . as little more than a preliminary discussion – and insisted that any agreement must have buy-in from GOP leaders,” per The Post’s Elise Viebeck, Ed O’Keefe and Mike DeBonis. “Yet Ryan agreed in broad terms with the president’s goal of protecting hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants while postponing talk of a border wall but toughening U.S. border security in other ways. . . . Ryan confirmed that he didn’t learn of the potential deal with [“Chuck and Nancy”] until Thursday morning, when Trump and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly confirmed it in phone conversations from Air Force One more than 12 hours after the dinner meeting. . . . (Mitch) McConnell remained noncommittal about a possible deal – and put the onus on the White House to come up with a proposal. . . .
“Specific talks on border security are expected to begin in the coming days, Schumer said. He and Pelosi said border security measures in the final agreement could include drones, sensor technology, road repairs and other strategies that were included in a bipartisan bill in 2013 that instructed federal officials to draft a plan ensuring apprehension of 90 percent of all illegal border-crossers within five years.”
• “He likes us. He likes me, anyway,” Schumer said on the Senate floor, in a comment picked up by a hot microphone. “I said, ‘Mr. President, you’re much better off if you can sometimes step right and sometimes step left. If you have to step just to one direction, you’re boxed.’ He gets that. . . . It’s going to work out, and it’ll make us more productive, too.”
• “Trump tests the faith of supporters with talk of immigration deal,” by the Post’s Robert Costa and Michael Scherer: “‘Amnesty Don,’ declared a bright-red headline on Breitbart News . . . Yet the lasting political cost of Trump’s engagement with top Democrats on immigration remained ambiguous. While (Ann) Coulter and others vented, several conservative leaders Thursday remained hesitant about breaking with the president publicly given his continued grass-roots support. . . .
“Polling suggests that Trump has more room to maneuver with his base on the question of dreamers than on other planks of his immigration platform. An analysis of the 2016 presidential election by Hamilton College political scientist Philip Klinkner found that among 2016 Trump voters, 67 percent supported building a southern border wall, 80 percent said speaking English was ‘very important’ to being American, and 80 percent were opposed to letting Syrian refugees into the United States. But among the same voters, 68 percent said child migrants brought illegally who have been here 10 years and have graduated high school should be allowed to stay in the country. ‘That’s what the White House is wrestling with right now,’ says Jim McLaughlin, a campaign pollster for Trump who still consults with the White House.”
• “Is Trump advocating ‘amnesty?’ Ask one conservative lawmaker, and watch him squirm,” by the Post’s Paul Kane: Dave Brat, the Virginia congressman who toppled Eric Cantor in 2014, “paused for four seconds, then started to talk, then stopped, then started again. ‘There’s no good answer I can give you to what they’ve been talking about,’ he said, requesting to know more details. ‘You’d have to give me – what is it? – before I elaborate.'”
Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve contributed to this article.