WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate has effectively blocked President Donald Trump from making any appointments while the lawmakers are on their August break.
The politicians have agreed to a procedural quirk known as pro forma sessions — a series of brief meetings that will technically keep the Senate in session.
Senators took the action after Trump's recent criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions sparked speculation that he might fire Sessions during the recess.
The Washington Post said that Trump has mused with aides about replacing Sessions when Congress took its annual recess in August, in order to avoid a protracted Senate confirmation hearing over a new attorney general. The White House had called the report "more fake news."
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told NBC News recently there will be "holy hell" to pay if Trump fires Sessions, who was a senator until Trump tapped him to become attorney general.
Trump has vented his anger at Sessions, an early supporter of his presidential campaign, for removing himself from oversight of the Justice Department's investigation of Russia's interference in last year's presidential election.
That in turn led Sessions' deputy to name a special prosecutor, former Federal Bureau of Investigation chief Robert Mueller, to conduct an investigation of possible Trump campaign collusion with Moscow aimed at helping Trump win. The probe has consumed the early months of Trump's White House tenure, even as Trump has branded the investigation a "witch hunt" and an excuse by Democrats to explain his upset victory over his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Senators weigh in
Graham said that "any effort [by Trump] to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong. Right now I have no reason to believe Mueller is compromised."
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, the Senate minority leader, has noted Sessions' political support of the president when Trump was an underdog in last year's race for the Republican presidential nomination. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump's candidacy.
"I would say to my fellow Americans, Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, every American should be troubled by the character of a person who humiliates and turns his back on a close friend after only six months," Schumer said.
"All Americans should be wondering: Why is the president publicly, publicly demeaning and humiliating such a close friend and supporter, a member of his own Cabinet?" Schumer said recently. "They should wonder if the president is trying to pry open the office of attorney general to appoint someone during the August recess who will fire special counsel Mueller and shut down the Russia investigation. Let me say, if such a situation arises, Democrats would use every tool in our toolbox to stymie such a recess appointment."
Attacks via Twitter
Trump has lobbed attacks at Sessions, a highly unusual public spat in Washington between a president and a member of his Cabinet. Trump publicly has said he is "disappointed" with Sessions, while calling him "VERY weak" and "beleaguered" in comments via Twitter.
Associates of Sessions have told the White House that Sessions has no intention of quitting his post at the U.S. Justice Department, and so far Trump has not fired him.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has said that even though Trump is "disappointed" in Sessions, the president wants him to continue to run the Justice Department and focus on controlling illegal immigration and investigating leaks of classified government material to journalists.