WASHINGTON — A day after it was reported that President Trump has been referring to Attorney General Jeff Sessions with a slur directed at the developmentally disabled, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made clear that he wants Sessions to stay at the Justice Department.
The Washington Post published Tuesday excerpts from Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear, which comes out Sept. 11. Woodward reports that Trump said of Sessions, “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. … He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.” The Daily Beast subsequently reported that officials have heard Trump call Sessions a “retard” and “retarded,” and refer to him as mentally deficient.
Trump has been publicly ripping Sessions over his recusal in the Russian campaign influence investigation, saying “the only reason I gave him the job is because I felt loyalty.” He’s also tweeted that Sessions was showing “very weak” leadership.
“The already discredited Woodward book, so many lies and phony sources, has me calling Jeff Sessions ‘mentally retarded’ and ‘a dumb southerner.’ I said NEITHER, never used those terms on anyone, including Jeff, and being a southerner is a GREAT thing. He made this up to divide!” Trump tweeted today.
In mid-August, before the Woodward book excerpts were released, Sessions fired back publicly for the first time against the president’s taunts. “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” Sessions said. “I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action.”
Asked about the language Woodward says Trump used to slam Sessions, McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill today that “the last time I talked to Bob Woodward, he was doing a similar book on the Obama administration.” Woodward published Obama’s Wars before the midterm election in September 2010.
“I haven’t talked to him recently, and I’m not going to start commenting on observations by one or another of these apparent sources that Bob used in putting together the book,” McConnell said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has said he believes Trump could make a move to fire Sessions after midterm elections. McConnell was asked if the Senate would consider a new candidate for attorney general in the lame-duck session.
“Well, let me just say, for myself, I have total confidence in the attorney general. We served with him for 20 years,” the Senate GOP leader replied. “I hope he’ll be there a considerably longer period of time than all the speculation that’s been swirling around.”
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), a founder of the Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus whose son has Down syndrome, said in a statement issued through her spokeswoman on Trump’s reported use of “mentally retarded” that her “views on this type of language have not changed and never will — that term should never be used.”
Marty Ford, senior executive officer for public policy at The Arc, said in a statement Tuesday that the association representing people with developmental disabilities is not happy with the word choice reportedly deployed to insult Sessions.
“Words matter, and President Trump’s choice of words highlight his disregard for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have made it clear for decades that the term retarded is considered a slur against them,” said Ford. “This incident should not go unchecked, it should be a reminder that the civil rights of people with disabilities matter, and that hateful language that degrades them should not be accepted in schools, in places of work and certainly not in the highest office of our government.”