Back in September, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions told Breitbart News reporter Matt Boyle about some leverage Republicans might have against President Obama's theorized "executive amnesty." Attorney General Eric Holder, a Breitbart bete noire, had already announced his post-election retirement. Republicans would likely hold a Senate majority after November's elections, and the president would be unable to ignore them. So Sessions proposed a test: The president's AG nominee had to clearly oppose any attempt by the president to defer deportations by executive order.
"No senator should vote to confirm anyone to this position who does not firmly reject the President’s planned executive amnesty—or any other scheme to circumvent our nation’s immigration laws—and who does not pledge to serve the laws and people of the United States," Sessions told Boyle.
Boyle, who previously drove Holder to distraction by asking House Republicans if they wanted the AG to resign (spoiler: many did), started posing the Sessions question to GOP senators. Ted Cruz gave him a "yes, yes, absolutely yes." Rand Paul confirmed that executive amnesty would be a deal breaker: "I think the attorney general should, whoever the nominee is, acknowledge that they will operate independent of politics, independent of the president and under the direction of the Constitution."
Yesterday, Politico's great congressional reporter Seung Min Kim published new details on the GOP's strategy for the nomination of Holder's replacement, Loretta Lynch. You know where this is going:
The Republicans’ early strategy, according to comments from senators and several Republican aides close to the Judiciary Committee, centers on whether the president has the authority to bypass Congress on immigration—allowing Republicans to write their own narrative on the nomination.
The Sessions/Cruz/Paul strategy quietly became the Republican Strategy. It's not like the White House is being caught flat-flooted. In my reporting for this story, about the nihilistic case for "executive amnesty," it became pretty clear that Democrats would relish a fight that pits the Sessions wing of the party against the demographic groups that most strongly back the president. A Lynch fight over "executive amnesty" would have Republicans attacking a black, female nominee over her support for a policy favored by Latinos.
Conservatives, buoyed by the strongly negative polling for "executive amnesty," don't fear these optics at all. A fight over an AG nominee falls short of the "impeachment" threat that would draw even more media attention. (I was struck yesterday by how Representative Steve King refused to use "the I word" in talking about how every option was "on the table" if Obama defied Congress.) If you wanted to see whether the conservative wing of the GOP is more relevant after the election, here it is. The tail is already wagging the dog.