Affirmative action move energizes Trump’s base
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ internal announcement indicating that the Justice Department is seeking to curb affirmative action in a university admissions case has roused President Donald Trump’s conservative base by seizing on a longtime grievance of the right at a moment when the administration is struggling to fulfill core Republican promises.
Sessions’ apparent intention to prohibit “intentional race-based discrimination” is also a window into the direction he is pulling the department’s civil rights division to reverse Obama administration policies on a range of issues, including criminal justice, policing and voting rights.
For a Republican Party still searching for consensus in the Trump era, Sessions’ moves signal that the administration is embracing the base during a time of turbulence and tension, with heavy attention being paid to the concerns of the white voters who lifted Trump into presidency.
When Trump publicly attacked Sessions last week for his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, conservative groups and Republican lawmakers swiftly rallied to the attorney general’s defense. They argued that Sessions — more than any other Cabinet member — has delivered quickly and concretely on Trump’s priorities, from his crackdown on illegal immigration and sanctuary cities to his overhaul of the department’s criminal charging policy.
Some Republican operatives also see the affirmative action initiative as a strategic play by the White House to rally middle-class and uppermiddle-class white voters, especially as the Republican agenda on Capitol Hill has stalled.
“This touches a lot of issues and talks right to the folks who look at college admissions and believe slots for their kids are being taken, whether it’s by illegal immigrants or by other groups,” said Brett O’Donnell, a veteran Republican consultant. “It strikes to the heart of how they feel college is increasingly unaffordable and sometimes impossible to get into.”