Af­fir­ma­tive action move en­er­gizes Trump’s base

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Sari Hor­witz and Robert Costa

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.”

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