NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

Jeff sessions

Illustration by SEAN MCCABE

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 2.11.02 AMFRESH AIR: If you want to understand the far-reaching domestic goals of the Trump presidency, you have to understand the working relationship between Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, and Jeff Sessions, the former Alabama senator and new attorney general. That’s according to my guest, Emily Bazelon, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine whose latest article is about how Bannon and Sessions have long shared a vision for remaking America. Now, she says, the nation’s top law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice headed by Sessions, can serve as a tool for enacting that vision. Bazelon is also the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law at Yale Law School.

GROSS: In 2015, Jeff Sessions wrote a 23-page memo to his colleagues saying that the party had to show working class voters how lax immigration policies have stolen their jobs and erased their prospects for moving up the social ladder. What do you know about that memo?

BAZELON: Well, opposing immigration was absolutely the signature issue for Jeff Sessions when he was in the Senate. It was the thing he was known for. Sessions here is hitting the kind of economic rationale for limiting immigration. And in public and certainly on the Senate floor, this is something he talked about a lot, this idea that immigrants are stealing jobs from native-born Americans.

And Sessions is someone who always emphasizes the costs of immigration as opposed to the benefits. Immigrants also make the economy bigger. They are consumers. They buy stuff. They take jobs sometimes that native-born Americans aren’t as interested in. But for Sessions, it’s always about the cost that immigrants are imposing.

GROSS: So how did Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions meet? And this was during the period when Bannon was the head of Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 1.49.16 AMBreitbart News and Sessions was a senator from Alabama.

BAZELON: That’s right. So around 2013, Congress started debating a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform. And this was the bill that was going to put more money into keeping the border secure but would also provide a path to citizenship for some undocumented people. Sessions was adamantly opposed to this bill. He was the most right wing senator on this immigration issue. And he spent a lot of time on the Senate floor opposing this legislation. Breitbart started giving Sessions very flattering, supportive coverage, really highlighting the role he was playing.

And this is a time in which Sessions and Bannon were talking a lot about messaging, sometimes with each other and also with Stephen Miller, who at the time was a top aide of Jeff Sessions and then went and joined the Trump campaign and now works in the White House with Stephen Bannon. So you can see Miller as a kind of actual embodiment of this close tie between Sessions and Bannon.

GROSS: So what was Breitbart News writing about immigration at that time?

BAZELON: Breitbart News covers immigration and immigrants in a very harsh and demonizing way. So you see lots of headlines about illegal aliens committing crimes, a real emphasis on that even though we know statistically that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than other people. In Breitbart, immigrants are always, you know, murderers and rapists and causing trouble. And often, you see pictures of immigrants – criminal immigrants, their mug shots. They’re usually people of color. So there is a real negative racially-tinged association that Breitbart is making over and over again between criminal misconduct and immigration. MORE