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Trump and Sessions, the Path Forward

The appointment of Gen. Kelly as White House Chief of Staff, and his immediate replacement of the loose-lipped (to be kind) Anthony Scaramucci, may provide the occasion for a re-set of the frayed relationship between President Trump and Attorney General Sessions.

We should remember the basics.  The President could hardly have done a better job finding a man with the experience and dedication to advance his justice-related agenda. The problem arose when Sessions recused himself from the Department's Russia investigation.  Reportedly, this made the President angry and frustrated, notwithstanding that Sessions' action was, as I and others have argued, wise if not required under the governing law.  (This may be the place to remember that there is governing law, and that recusal decisions are not just a matter of preference or perceived political interest).

It now seems that the President has, perhaps reluctantly, decided to retain the Attorney General.  Their relationship, however, can become cordial and productive, and consign to the past the tension that seems to exist now.  In other words, there is a constructive way forward.
It begins with a recognition of how close the two men are in how they think about what law ought to be doing for the country.  Under the previous administration, at least three problems (actually, many more) began to take a serious toll on America:  Rampant illegal immigration, the startling rise in murder and violent crime in Obama's last two years, and the heroin/fentynal/opioid problem  --  an escalating crisis that, tragically, is claiming thousands of lives.  As the Deputy Attorney General recently noted, things are now so utterly out of control with drug abuse that overdose deaths have become the leading cause of mortality for those under 50 years old.

Trump's and Sessions' common determination to deal forcefully with these problems provides the key to how they can change their relationship from a source of tension to a source of energetic cooperation, progress and renewal.  Each man will benefit, but America will benefit more.

Since optics matter, it should begin in the neighborhoods that have been hurt most from the last administration's laxness, and thus stand to gain the most from the Trump/Sessions program of creating honest jobs, aggressive policing, and unapologetically incarcerating those demanding a quick buck in the (typically violent) business of drug trafficking.

We know where these neighborhoods are because they were profiled in the Washington Post's brilliant series, "Second Chance City."  The series chronicled the human devastation in Washington, DC wrought by lax enforcement, naive judging, and criminals-are-victims thinking that Obama-era policies fostered (and that in recent years have come home to roost principally, but not exclusively, in the morgue).

The President and the Attorney General would convene a town hall meeting of the residents of these neighborhoods.  They would sit down at the table with them to hear their stories.  They would talk together with ordinary people  --  business owners, parents and grandparents  --  about what government can do to improve their lives and fulfill its first obligation under the Constitution, maintenance of essential safety and decency. 

Keeping faith with that imperative is a major reason Donald Trump was  elected  and Jeff Sessions was chosen to be the nation's Attorney General:  Violent crime is spiking; the life-destroying business of drugs is spiking even more.  Ordinary people feel like they're not being heard and that, instead, the only folks with a seat at the 
Beltway/Upper East Side table are think tank elites like the Urban Institute, the Brennan Center, or the Sentencing Project.

Trump and Sessions can re-discover the virtues that led them to each other by sitting down together with the people most in need of their cooperation.  They should do this at round table gatherings in crime-plagued neighbors, not just in Washington, but Baltimore, Chicago, and St. Louis.  They could do it too in smaller cities across the country that, less visibly, but no less tragically, are likewise suffering the crime resurgence.

If this can happen, it will be a sign that the President's appointment of General Kelly might signal a fresh start and a renewal of the central, and enormously important, mission that brought Trump and Sessions together from the outset.

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