In an answer to the question why the President would not just fire the Attorney General a user explained that after a (requested) resignation the President could appoint a temporary replacement whereas after a dismissal, this might not have been the case and the deputy AG would probably have taken over. This leads to ask the question from the other point of view:

  • What can a cabinet member gain from actually resigning after being asked to by the President?
  • What could a cabinet member lose if they chose to wait for the President to fire them?

There are some obvious points:

  • Some might argue that it's always better to resign than to be fired. However, I do not think that a former cabinet member will ever have to apply for a job like "normal" people do. And, even if being fired by the President probably disqualifies you among people supporting that President and/or their policy, it might just as well be well received (or at least unimportant) among their political opponents.
  • Cabinet members should be loyal and thus not refuse to resign after being asked to by the President. However, they might consider the reason for the request as being morally and/or legally wrong and thus stay in office "for the best of the country" (in their opinion).
  • One might not want to continue working with a boss who asked them to resign. In the specific case of former AG Jeff Sessions, I believe that the relationship between the two men has already been suboptimal (to say the least) for quite a while and it did not seem to bother the AG enough to resign.

The question's aim is not to speculate about Mr. Sessions' personal reasons, but to give clear-cut reasons, possibly based on precedents, laws and/or regulations, or also interviews with and/or biographies of retired or dismissed cabinet members.

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    Maybe he doesn't want to help the Democrats? Maybe he has the honor that if your boss asks you to resign, you do so? But those reasons are speculation, so voted-to-close.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 16:15
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    Can you comment on why you don't think this is a duplicate of the question to which you linked? Are you not trying to suggest additional speculative answer to the question to which you linked? In that case, would you not be better off writing another answer to that question and see how it would be received?
    – grovkin
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 18:38
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    In my opinion, the two questions are clearly distinct. The first one is from the President's point of view: Why ask a cabinet member to resign instead of firing him? This one is from the Attorney General's point of view: What resign although you like the job you are doing? What do you gain? What risks are you taking, if you wait for the President to actually fire you? People familiar with politics, especially US politics, might see good reasons. In that case, speculation is limited to the question whether these reasons apply to the AG's situation. Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 19:32
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    To the people voting to close the question as off-topic: "Questions seeking to understand the rules and processes by which policy is made in various legislatures or ruling bodies […] are wholly on topic." -- This question seeks to understand why a cabinet member would give up their job upon the President's request. Politics is rarely about making gifts to others, so there must be something for them to gain. Or something to lose, if they refuse to resign. This can be answered by people familiar with how things work in the higher spheres of (especially US) politics. Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 20:49

2 Answers 2


This is all about perspective. But in short. If you're asked to resign, it's sort of stepping down on what appears to be "good terms". If you do not step down and you're fired, it demonstrates that the underlying party has no unity or is in discord. It's all about the appearance of order within an organization. If your boss fires you outright on a Friday, rather than, letting you know on Monday that maybe you should resign, you'll resign. It's the idea of "they chose" vs "you decided". If you decided, it means you're honoring the office of the president by not creating any friction and facilitating a smooth transition. If you're fired, it's NOT a smooth transition and it's clear you're not interested in what the president thinks. They're both the same thing: your position is being terminated. It's just that one, represents an underlying respect for the decision of the president where the other is a defiance of the decision of the president. Both are political in nature, one towards the president, the other against./

It's all about perception, more than anything. How it looks to outsiders.

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    I clearly see the "good terms" argument. However, in the case of Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, those good terms seemed to be over for quite a while now. Also, if one explicitly resigns "at your request" and after having been heavily criticized in public, I do not quite see how it changes the narrative. Commented Nov 14, 2018 at 9:01
  • @PhilippImhof The key point is " it demonstrates that the underlying party has no unity or is in discord". while everything you said is true, the party is still wholly unified or at least appears to be. Commented Nov 14, 2018 at 15:17
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    I get you and what you say is certainly true for the general case. It may even be true in this concrete case, at least formally. However, the President has made several tweets showing anything but unity... :) Commented Nov 14, 2018 at 20:45

Because people in high executive positions are almost never fired. They 'resign for personal reasons'.

At that high of a level, firing someone is admitting that you made a mistake putting them into that position in the first place. The higher the position, the better the judgement you're supposed to exercise... so at a high level, they really don't want to say that the miracle worker turned out to be a spud. In private industry, the person resigning will be paid handsomely to avoid a flat out discharge, and say nice things on the way out the door... the 'golden parachute'.

In high public service positions, you're expected to resign if the president doesn't have faith in you. Only compensation will be the substantially higher salary you'll get in private industry.

  • Firing someone is admitting that you made a mistake, but asking someone you put in place to resign does not admit your bad judgement? Also, Jeff Sessions explicitly resigned at the President's request. Commented Nov 14, 2018 at 8:59
  • This should be obvious... the one is done in public, the other is usually done in private. It's about appearances.
    – tj1000
    Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 5:41

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