Most of the discussion of Donald Trump’s firing of acting attorney general Sally Yates for insubordination revolves around her decisions, particularly the angels-dancing-on-a-pin distinction between resigning and provoking a certain termination after she refused to defend the administration’s hastily executed travel ban in court.
But a question more of us should be asking is why the Trump administration put itself and Yates in this position in the first place. In a tweet after firing Yates, Trump tried to make it sound like he was stuck with this snake-in-the-grass “Obama AG” because Democrats were standing in the way of the confirmation of his choice for the job, Jeff Sessions. Last time I checked, Republicans controlled the Senate and Chuck Grassley controlled the Judiciary Committee that is in charge of Sessions’s confirmation. Said committee is scheduled to vote this very day on Sessions, and the odds all along have been that his name will be sent on to the full Senate directly.
So the question we ought to be asking is why Trump and company could not wait a couple of weeks before turning the immigration system upside down to get their own appointees into place in the relevant agencies, especially the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. Indeed, you’d think maybe Sessions could have indirectly gotten word to his former staffer Stephen Miller, reportedly at the wheel when all the madness broke out Friday night, to hold off for a brief interval of time because the nativist cavalry was on the way.
It is not a good sign that trigger fingers were so itchy in the White House that no one was inclined to tell Trump his plans for the sure-to-be-controversial travel ban could only benefit from taking the time to get it all within shouting distance of standard procedures.
I have already offered the hypothesis that the chaos of this last weekend may have been actually what the Miller and Stephen Bannon faction wanted, in order to spread fear and awe of Trump’s powers of destruction and to foster even greater polarization. If so, having Yates in place to defy Trump may have been part of the plan. But either way, the people now running the Executive branch of the United States government have no one but themselves to blame for her “insubordination.”