Sally Yates is attracting the attention of a Democratic Party desperate for fresh leadership and fixated on standing up to President Trump.
The 56-year-old former U.S. deputy attorney general kindled interest in her political future after she delivered poised, commanding testimony before a Senate subcommittee, during which her Republican interrogators tried futilely to trip her up.
In a memorable exchange, Yates sparred with Sen. Ted Cruz. The Texas Republican, a talented constitutional lawyer who has won several Supreme Court cases, grilled Yates her decision not to enforce Trump's executive travel ban. She stood her ground, insisting that the Constitution was on her side.
Democrats were still talking about it on Tuesday.
"Yates has an impressive record of public service working under both Republican and Democratic administrations for the past 20 years, and she's demonstrated courage under fire on a national level," Democratic operative Ed Espinoza said. "Standing up to Trump and schooling Ted Cruz indicates she has the chops for a rough and tumble political campaign. But does she have the will for one?"
Yates previously served as U.S. attorney and then deputy attorney general at the Justice Department. She was appointed to both positions by former President Barack Obama.
She caught the eye of Democrats when, as acting U.S. attorney general during the first days of the Trump administration, before Jeff Sessions had been confirmed, she refused to defend in federal court Trump's travel ban targeting immigration from a select number of majority-Muslim nations.
Trump promptly fired her. But Yates had endeared herself to liberal activists intent on blocking Trump however possible, feelings reinforced Monday when she defended her actions to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.
It's just not clear how the Atlanta native might pursue a political career successfully, or even if she wants to. One Democratic source familiar with Yates' thinking told the Washington Examiner that she isn't interested.
"She has no plans to run for office and has never expressed an interest in doing so," this operative said.
Former colleagues expect that Yates will be asked to, and they hope that she reconsiders.
Jenny Durkan, a former U.S. attorney who served with Yates at the Justice Department, said that her friend deserves to take some time off after two decades of public service.
But she hopes that Yates will jump back into the ring. Durkan said that Yates' performance on Capitol Hill, under tough questioning from Republicans looking to paint her as someone who abused her power and was ill-informed about the law, was what she witnessed every day when they worked together.
"Sally is committed to the core values of our country and has dedicated her life to public service. I have little doubt she will be called to lead and serve. She is a person that steps up when she believes something is an opportunity to make a difference and advance the goals of equality and justice," Durkan said.
Yates wouldn't be the first Democrat to emerge from obscurity because of credibility earned in battle with Republicans in Congress.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., became a progressive hero and launched a Senate campaign after Republicans filibustered her appointment, by Obama, to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
Warren is now considered a top 2020 contender.