U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sang President Donald Trump’s praises Friday in Denver at the Western Conservative Summit in a speech that at times felt more like a campaign rally, steering clear of marijuana but hammering home a message of zero tolerance toward unlawful immigration.
Sessions also touted the Department of Justice’s move Thursday night not to defend key elements of the Affordable Care Act amid a Republican court challenge — a decision about President Barack Obama’s signature health care law that could affect its requirement that people have health insurance and the provision guaranteeing access to health insurance regardless of any medical conditions.
“It’s a rare step, but one I felt was necessary when it comes to this law,” he said.
Sessions’ praise of Trump and the Trump administration comes despite very public friction between the two men over Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump has said he wouldn’t have chosen Sessions to become attorney general had he known he was going to recuse himself.
“I think we’re really taking step after step after step,” Sessions said of the Trump administration, adding that the president has “nominated some fabulous judges to the federal bench.”
Sessions said, “We’re going to keep up this pace. We’re not slowing down. We’re determined to keep winning and winning and winning.”
But many attendees of the first day of the Western Conservative Summit, held at the Colorado Convention Center downtown, seemed to share Trump’s frustration with Sessions over the Russia investigation — a sign of unrest in contrast to the display of achievements.
“I wonder why Jeff Sessions isn’t doing his job,” said Charlotte Jacobson of Dillon. “I think he’s not working as an attorney general. I guess he’s been doing some other things, but in terms of the investigation — that’s the most important thing right now.”
Ardis Dolezal shared that sentiment. She was decked out in red, white and blue, and was sporting a National Rifle Association sticker that says, “Stand and Fight.”
“I’m really hoping that he’s more on Trump’s side than he appears to be sometimes, because I think Trump is great for the country,” Dolezal said.
During his approximately half-hour speech, Sessions also vowed to back law enforcement and law and order. On immigration, he called for the construction of Trump’s proposed border wall and held up the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy toward people who are arriving or living in the U.S. illegally.
He appeared to take a swipe at Colorado cities that have so-called sanctuary policies.
“It cannot be that someone who illegally crosses the border on a Monday and gets to Denver or Boulder or Aurora on Wednesday is home free — never to be removed from this country. What kind of law would that be?” he said. “What if they were bringing 6 ounces of cocaine with them and they were arrested for that? This refusal of cooperation has serious consequences.”
A glaring omission from Sessions’ speech was marijuana and his fierce opposition to the drug and its legalization. The state’s cannabis industry sees him as a threat to its very existence, and Sessions’ has even clashed with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., over his actions and views on marijuana.
No word on marijuana from Sessions- despite earlier news that Trump would probably support bill proposed by Senator Gardner #copolitics
— Skilling (@skilling747) June 8, 2018
“Marijuana remains prohibited by federal law,” Sessions told Colorado Public Radio in an interview earlier Friday. “At this time, my view is clear that the federal law remains in effect nationwide, just like it does for heroin and cocaine.”
Sessions did, however, speak at the summit about opioids and the Justice Department’s work to prosecute doctors who overprescribe painkillers and to halt the U.S. overdose epidemic.
On Friday night, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt — who is under fire for his leadership of the agency and use of taxpayer dollars — took the stage and continued touting the Trump administration’s actions.
He highlighted work to repeal the Obama-era Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule and roll back other regulations passed under the previous president.
“The past administration said that though we had been blessed with all these natural resources — natural gas and coal and farming and ranching so that we can feed the world and power the world — their approach was what? Put up fences and say do not touch,” Pruitt said. “You know who suffers when that occurs? This country and the world.”
When it comes to the environment, he advocates for stewardship, not prohibition.
“I believe God has blessed us with tremendous natural resources that we should use to the betterment of mankind,” he said of the Trump administration’s environmental approach. “This is an example that you can have your cake and eat it, too. Those folks who say you can’t, I don’t understand that. What else (are) you supposed to do with cake?”
Friday was the first day of the annual Western Conservative Summit, which ends Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This article was originally featured on The Denver Post.