Confronted with the rare and awkward choice of siding with either a president of their party or a Cabinet member who’s a former colleague, Senate Republicans are sounding of single mind:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, until five months ago a senior GOP senator from Alabama, has done nothing to merit the upbraiding he’s been taking from President Donald Trump.
Being a former member of one of the most exclusive clubs in American politics, it seems, has privileges — including insulation from a wave of piling on when your job seems in jeopardy.
Conversations on Thursday with nine senators from across the Republican ideological spectrum, representing one-sixth of the party caucus, produced not a single critical word about their former colleague — let alone anyone willing to agree the president is justified in being angry that Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“He’s a totally honorable man, a public servant who is trying to do the right thing,” Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, a former attorney general of the state, said in a typical comment. “I respected the recusal decision when he made it and I still respect it now,” he added.
Asked if the president was being too harsh on Sessions, GOP conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota offered: “Well, what ‘I’ think is that the attorney general is doing a good job.”
The longest-tenured current GOP senator, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, said that while the recusal decision Sessions made in March was a close call, he’s done “a fine job” since and Trump’s unabated fury after so many months was out of all proportion.
“The president could have, and should have, been a bit more judicious, to use a word appropriate in this case,” Hatch said, adding: “Although, of course, that’s not really his way.”
The de facto votes of confidence on the Hill came as Sessions declared he would remain at the helm of the Justice Department “as long as that is appropriate,” despite Trump’s declaration the day before that he would not have nominated Sessions to that post had he known that he would recuse himself.
“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump said during a sprawling interview with The New York Times. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”
Asked Thursday at a news conference, arranged to announce arrests in an online narcotics sales case, whether he was considering resigning in the face of Trump’s criticisms, Sessions said, “The work we are doing today is the kind of work that we intend to continue,” adding, “I’m totally confident that we can continue to run this office in an effective way.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a former attorney general of Texas, described Sessions as “doing just fine” and urged Trump to work to put their relationship back together. “They’re both adults and they can work it out.”
The president’s unabated fury is all the more perplexing to senators because of Sessions’ distinction as the first senator to endorse him, in February 2016 — a time when many GOP senators and House members were still openly repudiating the candidate who had won the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries and become the clear front-runner for the party’s nomination.
From that point through the convention, the fall campaign, the transition and the opening weeks of the administration, Sessions’ status seemed to be steadily elevated from best-friend-in-Congress to one of the few non-family members of Trumps’ innermost circle
But that changed with the recusal, which came after revelations that, in his Senate confirmation hearing, Sessions failed to disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador while advising the Trump campaign. His decision set in motion the series of decisions resulting in former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller’s appointment as special counsel.
One reason the senators sounded so unified in support of Sessions is that his dismissal or forced resignation would make life for every Republican in Congress much more difficult.
That’s because the nomination and confirmation of a replacement would be, more than anything, a referendum on Mueller’s inquiry, which is already reportedly looking into possibly improper interconnected behavior by members of the president’s family and his 2016 campaign operatives.
Special counsels report to the attorney general, who can veto such an official’s decisions, but are not supposed to provide close supervision. Given the Sessions recusal, Mueller is now reporting to Justice’s No. 2 official, Rod Rosenstein.
Were Sessions to be in need of replacement at the top, however, Mueller would get a new overseer only when Trump nominated someone who had secured Senate confirmation, meaning GOP senators would inevitably be pressed to take a clear position in support or skepticism of Mueller’s work.
Georgia Sen. David Perdue’s office has had the unique opportunity of having two active-duty Marine Corps officers working there.
The Marine Corps affords some Marines the opportunity to apply for congressional fellowship positions and, if accepted, assigns them to a House or Senate office. Of the roughly 100 Marine fellows currently on the Hill, Perdue’s office has been assigned two back-to-back, which is pretty rare.
Maj. Simba Chigwida, a native of Zimbabwe, is currently a national defense fellow in Perdue’s office. He replaced Maj. Jim Purekal.
“Jim and Simba are fantastic young leaders and our country is indebted to them for their service,” Perdue said.
“Working with them has taught me a lot about the ever-evolving obstacles facing our active-duty troops and their families today,” the first-term Republican added.
Georgia is home to 9 active-duty Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine installations.
Chigwida, 39, started in January and his fellowship ends in December. He said the program gives him an appreciation for “how hard senators work, how hard their staff works.”
“Especially the staffers … how much they know and how knowledgeable they are. Also that the Constitution has a role, and responsibilities and understanding that there are checks and balances, seeing that in action. I think in the Department of Defense, as large as we are, we can try to understand and appreciate the role of the Congress,” Chigwida said.
Perdue is hopeful the experience teaches fellows “how communication and cooperation between the Department of Defense and legislative branch are key to advancing our shared goal: providing for our country’s national defense.”
Chigwida’s fellowship started right on time for a new Congress and White House.
“It’s been a very interesting year with a new administration taking over so I think probably one of the highlights has been seeing the nominations process, getting an opportunity to meet with a lot of the nominees that have had individual sit-downs with Sen. Perdue and then also getting the opportunity to prepare hearing questions,” Chigwida said.
Perdue serves on the Armed Services Committee and the senator said it has been “extremely helpful to have current service members on my team to provide real-time feedback on the critical issues.”
Chigwida said that with Perdue on Armed Services, “It’s great to see how things operate behind the scenes in the legislative branch.”
He specifically found the recent National Defense Authorization Act process “very interesting.”
“It has been interesting to see how dynamic the environment is in the Senate and how priorities change, of course, depending on what’s on the legislative agenda,” he said.
After being accepted by the Marines to apply for the fellowship, Chigwida said he went through several interviews before landing the position in Perdue’s office. Prior to starting, there was training about the legislative process and ethics.
After the fellowship, he said he could get a legislative liaison position in either the Senate, House or Pentagon.
Chigwada’s predecessor, Purekal, is currently working in the Marine Corps’ Senate Liaison office.
The congressional baseball coaches aren’t done talking about the positive outcomes of this year’s game: bipartisanship and support for the Capitol Police.
Reps. Joe L. Barton of Texas and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, the respective Republican and Democratic coaches, introduced a bill Wednesday that would expand the Capitol Police Memorial Fund to allow donations to go to officers injured in the line of duty.
The original 1998 law creating the fund was established to raise money for the families of two Capitol Police officers killed in the line of duty that year.
“It became pretty obvious to us after the shooting that the new money that was coming in was coming in as a result of the incident and the people that were shot,” Doyle said.
Agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner, both on House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s security detail, were wounded while protecting the Republican players after a shooter opened fire at their baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, on June 14.
“We just have an existing fund that received private donations and in this case, we have some fairly large donations we want to put into the fund that could be used for the two officers that were injured protecting us at the baseball practice,” Barton said.
This year’s game brought in nearly $1.7 million and sold almost 25,000 tickets. After the shooting, tickets were selling at a rate of 500 per hour.
The game’s proceeds benefited the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Washington Literary Center, and the Capitol Police Memorial Fund, a last-minute addition by the coaches.
Support from colleagues has been overwhelming. By the time it was introduced Wednesday, the bill had more than 105 co-sponsors.
“There wasn’t a single person who didn’t instantly say, ‘I want to be on that bill,’” Doyle said. “My biggest fear was that I was going to not reach somebody and they weren’t going to be on the bill.”
Barton joked, “If I had known it was a competition between Doyle and myself for the number of co-sponsors, I guarantee I would have had one more than he had.”
“We want to do this pretty quickly,” the Texas Republican added.
They are hopeful that the bill will reach the Senate by early next week. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a member of the Republican baseball team, talked to Barton about introducing it in his chamber and the coaches are also reaching out to other team members, GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut.
“This may be one of those that moves real expeditiously, as it should,” Barton said. “We have two officers that were seriously injured and there are some expenses that they should be reimbursed for.”
He also mentioned a Capitol Police officer who was injured in a car crash on Monday.
“I said if there could be a silver lining from the whole incident, it’s been how both sides have come together to support one another and then to also support these people that were the real heroes that put their lives on the line,” Doyle said.
Bailey and Griner have been notified about the bill. Both have been released from the hospital. Bailey threw out the first pitch at the Congressional Baseball Game, while Griner did the same at the Congressional Women’s Softball Game last month.
“Good news travels quickly,” Barton said. “[This bill can] show America that it is possible to still get things done in Congress.”
The inability of Senate Republicans to agree on a measure to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law is another blow to Donald Trump’s still-young but embattled presidency.
The president took to Twitter shortly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pulled the measure after the third and fourth GOP senators announced their opposition — two more than he could spare. Trump’s message in a late-night tweet and then one on Tuesday morning was forward-looking.
The House appeared prepared to quickly take up the Senate leadership bill for a vote that likely would have propelled it to Trump’s desk. But Trump’s inability to help McConnell and Co. find 50 Republican votes comes as the White House is dealing with declining approval ratings, including in key swing counties that helped him upset Democrat Hillary Clinton, as well as a seemingly ever-escalating scandal involving the Russian government and some of his top campaign aides, including Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!
The president started Tuesday by tweeting for all to “stay tuned” on health care, returning to what long has appeared his gut instincts about how to ditch Obama’s law and replace it with a Trump-GOP plan: “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan.”
Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!
Since the Senate took up its health overhaul effort in May, Trump has been — publicly, at least — a less visible presence than he was during the House effort. Aides explained that Trump was using a softer touch and tone because he has realized the Senate is a different animal than the House, where there were more potential deals to cut and Republican cats to herd.
The president’s own words and tweets during the Senate’s process to fashion a bill — which often seemed to contradict those of his communications, policy and legislative affairs shops — appeared to reveal a chief executive eager to leave some space between himself and whatever McConnell and his top deputies could piece together.
If they could craft a measure capable to garner 50 votes — with Vice President Mike Pence casting the decisive 51st — Trump and his top aides made clear he would sign it. After all, the businessman-turned-president who promised voters so much “winning” they would plead with him “we can’t take it anymore, we can't win anymore like this,” is in need of a major early-term legislative victory.
With only a very small majority, the Republicans in the House & Senate need more victories next year since Dems totally obstruct, no votes!
Yet, Trump never seemed that thrilled with the House bill, which he reportedly called “mean,” just the victorious vote. The same appeared true of the Senate bill, as his out-of-place comment during a July 27 meeting with most GOP senators at the White House showed.
“This will be great if we get it done,” he said that day. “And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like — and that’s OK. I understand that very well.”
Still, however, the president did have at least partial ownership of the Senate bill. Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson last week “I will be very angry” if GOP senators failed to strike a deal on the Senate measure. “Mitch has to pull it off.”
And Democrats reacted quickly to try and tie Trump to the Senate failure.
“Instead of listening to the people they represent, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and congressional Republicans ignored their constituents and met behind closed doors to craft legislation that would have devastated working families,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement released late Monday night.
“Make no mistake,” Perez said, “this bill’s defeat is a victory for human decency and for the millions of families who rely on the Affordable Care Act.”
Freshman Rep. Jimmy Gomez, 42, a California Democrat, talks about the time between his being elected and being sworn in, returning as a former Hill staffer, and his welcome to Washington compared to Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte’s.
Q: What has surprised you about Congress so far?
A: The House floor has been the most interesting for me because I come from a state legislature where everybody has a desk, there’s a specific hour that you vote. I feel like it’s part legislative body, part bizarre. … People are just trying to sell you on something on the floor — sign this, vote this way — and it’s kind of a little hustle and bustle with a little high school mixed in because everybody has their seating areas.
It’s different because you have one side of the aisle and you have the other. In California, we got away from that almost 15 years ago.
Q: What was your first day as a congressman like?
A: It was so much at one time. Most people have time to interview, get staff in order. I had to get staff in order and start voting almost immediately. It was nonstop, just the protocols and the culture that you have to learn.
Also, I just didn’t think how welcoming people were going to be. The members have been lending me interns and sending me food. The response of both sides of the aisle when I got sworn in was very positive.
I didn’t expect that because the gentleman from Montana that was sworn in made some comments and he got booed by his own colleagues, or somebody booed him. I think just how open and welcoming people have been. Very positive.
Q: Have you been able to meet the massive California delegation?
A: I’ve known a lot of them because I worked in politics in California for a while in some form or fashion. Now I’m getting to know people that were, for lack of a better term, sort of legends in politics. Nancy Pelosi has been in office way before I graduated from high school. Now, all of a sudden, I’m serving in the same capacity they are. Not exactly the same, but we’re both members of Congress and that makes it a little bit special. Lucille Roybal-Allard has been elected for decades and this seat that I’m in is actually her dad’s. So, it kind of gives me a perspective that I’m here because other people came before me.
The Republicans, I never knew. Kevin McCarthy and I joke around that he gave me a lot of attention for a couple of weeks (over the delay in his swearing-in), but I’ve always heard that he’s a pretty good-natured guy. I met Ed Royce a couple weeks ago at a dinner. He seemed really nice.
Q: In the time between when you were elected and sworn in, how did you fill it?
A: I came the week after I got elected just to have some interviews with leadership and start looking for staff. When I walked in, that was kind of the first strange part. I worked here for [former Rep.] Hilda Solis. I remembered saying that I wasn’t going to come back to D.C. until I was a member of Congress. This time, coming back, it felt strange because I knew I had to do this job, but I was trying to transition from my Assembly job. It was just two worlds tugging at me.
The member pin — the first day I was here, I was just walking around. Nobody even noticed me. Then I put this on and all of a sudden, the eyes started trailing me. I tried to get away without wearing it, or at least leaving my jacket, and it’s too late, people know who I am now.
Q: You’re interested in media literacy being taught in high school. How did this come about?
A: A lot of the fake news conversation came right after the 2016 election, but it’s something that had been discussed before Donald Trump ever ran for president. There was a study from Stanford University that our young people couldn’t really tell what was real and what was fake. I thought the best way to come up with it was somehow teaching, oftentimes, young people to spot how you tell what is fake, what is real.
Last book read: “I was reading a Harry Potter book in Spanish. I’m trying to work on my Spanish.”
Last movie seen: “Wonder Woman.”
Favorite song of all time: “I like musicals. In ‘La La Land,’ there’s this one, ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream).’ I feel like the fools who dream and who take risks are the ones who change the world.”
Role model: “I don’t have one.”
Closest to in Congress: “Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., is a friend of mine from before.”