Jeff Sessions Running For His Old Senate Seat

Jeff Sessions is running to win back his old Senate seat, putting into play the possibility of a clash with President Trump.

Former Senator and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was fired from his job as President Trump’s first Attorney General after a rocky tenure caused mostly by the fact that he failed to do Trump’s bidding when with respect to the Russia investigation, will enter the race for his old Senate seat later today:

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions will run for his old Senate seat in Alabama, mounting a stunning comeback attempt a year after he resigned amid a torrent of criticism and mockery from President Donald Trump.

Sessions is expected to announce his campaign Thursday, according to multiple Republicans familiar with his decision. He has been considering a bid for weeks, and his announcement would come just ahead of the Friday deadline to file for the Senate race.

Sessions’ entrance upends the crowded field of Republicans primary contenders running to take on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who won a 2017 special election to fill the remainder of Sessions term. Sessions represented Alabama in the Senate for two decades but left his seat after Trump tapped him to run the Justice Department.

The former attorney general’s rocky relationship with Trump is the main obstacle to his return to the Senate. Sessions was a key Trump ally during the 2016 campaign, but his decision to recuse himself from the investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 election infuriated the president, who has criticized Sessions harshly in public and in private. Trump previously called appointing Sessions attorney general the “biggest mistake” of his presidency.

Sessions will have to earn back Trump’s support, or at least overcome his ire, to be successful in the crowded primary. Jones is the most vulnerable senator up for reelection in 2020, and a number of Republicans are already running — and competing to be seen as Trump’s biggest supporter.

Several Sessions allies have been calling on him to consider running in recent weeks, including the conservative Club for Growth. Sen. Richard Shelby, the state’s senior senator who worked with Sessions for years, has spoken to his former colleague about running again.

“If he runs, I think he would be a formidable candidate,” Shelby said earlier this week.

Senate Republicans have not yet picked sides in the primary. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said earlier this week he was confident the primary would sort itself out.

Sessions’ entrance upends the crowded field of Republicans primary contenders running to take on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who won a 2017 special election to fill the remainder of Sessions term. Sessions represented Alabama in the Senate for two decades but left his seat after Trump tapped him to run the Justice Department.

The former attorney general’s rocky relationship with Trump is the main obstacle to his return to the Senate. Sessions was a key Trump ally during the 2016 campaign, but his decision to recuse himself from the investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 election infuriated the president, who has criticized Sessions harshly in public and in private. Trump previously called appointing Sessions attorney general the “biggest mistake” of his presidency.

Sessions will have to earn back Trump’s support, or at least overcome his ire, to be successful in the crowded primary. Jones is the most vulnerable senator up for reelection in 2020, and a number of Republicans are already running — and competing to be seen as Trump’s biggest supporter.

Several Sessions allies have been calling on him to consider running in recent weeks, including the conservative Club for Growth. Sen. Richard Shelby, the state’s senior senator who worked with Sessions for years, has spoken to his former colleague about running again.

“If he runs, I think he would be a formidable candidate,” Shelby said earlier this week.

Senate Republicans have not yet picked sides in the primary. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said earlier this week he was confident the primary would sort itself out.

“We’ve got some really strong candidates in that state, and I have no doubt that the people of Alabama are going to choose the most conservative Republican who can actually win a general election,” Young said.

“We’ve got some really strong candidates in that state, and I have no doubt that the people of Alabama are going to choose the most conservative Republican who can actually win a general election,” Young said.

As the Washington Post reports, Sessions’ entry into the race will create an interesting and delicate dynamic in play, especially given the President’s known disdain for his former Attorney General:

Former attorney general Jeff Sessions plans to announce as soon as Thursday that he will run for his old Senate seat in Alabama, according to three people familiar with his plans, setting the stage for a potentially contentious Republican primary with President Trump at the center and control of the Senate possibly at stake.

Sessions, whose turbulent two-year stint in the administration endedin dramatic fashion when he was forced out by Trump in November 2018, would enter with strong name recognition and deep institutional ties in the state and elsewhere. He held the seat for two decades before he became Trump’s first U.S. attorney general.

But the wild card in the race will be Trump, and whether he will weigh in against his former attorney general and in favor of other Republicans who have already announced their candidacies. Trump remains popular in the state and plans to attend the University of Alabama’s football game against Louisiana State University in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday.

Trump never forgave Sessions for recusing himself from the Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, frequently berating him on Twitter for a move he viewed as a betrayal.

The president has discussed attacking Sessions with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and McConnell has shared that he also has concerns about Sessions running because it could create a messy primary contest for a seat Republicans feel they have to win, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue. Trump has repeatedly denigratedSessions to allies and White House aides in recent days, people familiar with his comments said.

Sessions has not spoken with either Trump or McConnell about his plans to run, according to people familiar with the matter. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Sessions is scheduled to appear on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program on Thursday.

The Alabama race could factor heavily into determining which party controls the Senate following the 2020 election. Republicans are defending 23 seats, compared with just 12 for the Democrats. Republicans hold a 53-to-47 advantage and have long been hoping to oust Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.). They are wagering that his defeat would help offset any losses in other battleground states and protect the GOP’s majority.

“This is a nightmare for D.C. Republicans that just want to defeat Doug Jones,” said Dan Eberhart, an oil industry executive and a GOP donor who plans to back Sessions. “This is going to tie Trump and McConnell in knots.”

Jones delivered the GOP a stunning setback by flipping the seat in 2017. He defied the state’s strong conservative tilt with a victory over Republican Roy Moore, who faced allegations that he made sexual advances on teenagers when he was in his 30s.

(…)

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) said that he spoke with Sessions this week but that the former senator and attorney general did not indicate to him directly whether he would run. Shelby said he spoke with Trump two months ago about Sessions’s potential candidacy and that “he was not exactly on board.”

“He’ll be a factor,” Shelby said of Trump. “But I think if Sessions runs, he’d be a formidable candidate. But you have to win it on the battlefield.”
Sessions has largely stayed out of the public eye since his dismissal last fall. But he spoke at Northwestern University earlier this week, where he declined to directly criticize the president and praised the administration’s policies, according to the school’s student newspaper.

“I had never watched [Trump’s] program on TV, I didn’t know how many people he’d fired — maybe I’d have been more careful,” Sessions said, according to the Daily Northwestern. “The president is allowed to fire you, but fortunately he doesn’t get to shoot you.”

There have been rumors about Sessions running for the Senate again ever since he left the Justice Department, but the former Senator and Attorney General has largely stayed mum about the subject. This led many to believe that he was not inclined to get back into politics again in the wake of his experience at the Justice Department and taking into account the fact that he is currently 72, would be 73 during the campaign and would be 80 years old by the end of another six-year term. As a result, the Republican field for the nomination to run against Senator Jones has become rather large, with figures such as former Auburn University Head Coach Tommy Tuberville, Congressman Bradley Byrne, current Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, and,, of course, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who lost the 2017 Special Election to Jones after his past sexual misconduct was revealed. 

It’s unknown what impact Sessions would have on the race, but at this point it seems unlikely that he would clear the field just by entering the race. Notwithstanding that, it’s worth noting that Sessions had easily won renomination and reelection each of the times he ran for reelection in 20022008, and 2014. Indeed, in 2014 he ran unopposed for both the Republican nomination and the General Election as Democrats declined to even put up a token candidate against him. In fact, this race to reclaim his seat will be the first time that Sessions has faced a contested Republican primary since he first ran for the seat in 1996, and the Republican Party was a very different organization then than it is today.

Current polling in the race, which has not included Sessions as a hypothetical candidate, has shown Tuberville in the lead, with Byrne in second place, and Moore and Merrill in what amounts to a statistical dead heat for third place. However, Politico reports that the conservative Club for Growth had released a poll showing that Sessions had a 71% favorable rating in the state and that he led a hypothetical primary with 31% of the vote compared to 23% for Tuberville and Byrne and Moore tied at the bottom with 11% each. If accurate, this would seem to indicate that Sessions remains immensely popular in the state and among Alabama Republicans notwithstanding his clashes with the equally popular Trump. In any case, with the Alabama Senate primary set for March 3rd, and any runoff election, if necessary, set for March 31st, Sessions will have to hit the ground running.

Taking this into account, one would think that Sessions would vault to near the top of the field for the nomination based on his previous popularity. As noted above, though, the open question is how President Trump might react to a Sessions candidacy. Even while he was still serving as Attorney General, Trump’s contempt for the person who was one of his earliest and most powerful supporters in Congress was an open secret in Washington. To a large part, Trump’s disdain for Sessions was rooted in the fact that he had recused himself from the Russia investigation due to his involvement with the Trump campaign, but there also seemed to be a truly vindictive personal nature to the attacks. It was widely reported, for example, that the President mocked Sessions’ southern accent and called him “Mr. Magoo” behind his back. Trump continued these attacks on Sessions long after he had left office as Attorney General, and all but claimed that Sessions himself was part of the alleged “Deep State” conspiracy that the President claims was arrayed against him.

Given this history, there seems to be a better than even chance that Trump would not only oppose Sessions in the primary but openly mock him the way he did while he was Attorney General. What impact that will have on Republicans in Alabama is unclear. On the one hand, it appears that the GOP base in the state is very much pro-Trump — he did win the state by nearly 700,000 votes in 2016 after all. On the other hand, as noted above, polling has also shown that Sessions retains a lot of the goodwill among those same Republicans. How will these voters react to Trump not only endorsing another candidate but also attacking Sessions openly? I have no idea, but it will be very interesting to watch.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    I’ve often wondered how Trump’s southern fans–his most devoted acolytes–were able to reconcile not only his abuse of Sessions, but his open mockery of Sessions’s most distinctive Southern trait–his accent.

    ReplyReply
  2. Scott says:

    Given this history, there seems to be a better than even chance that Trump would not only oppose Sessions in the primary but openly mock him the way he did while he was Attorney General.

    I think I disagree. I think the way will clear for Sessions. Trump, for all his pettiness and vindictiveness will back a winner (and take credit for it) rather than cause a loss. He is totally transactional and two-faced if it is to his benefit.

    ReplyReply
  3. CSK says:

    @Scott: The majority of Cult45 despises Sessions because they feel he betrayed their god Trump.

    ReplyReply
  4. David S. says:

    @CSK: They’ll flip if Trump tells them to, though.

    ReplyReply
  5. CSK says:

    @David S.: Yes, they will. It’s astonishing.

    ReplyReply
  6. EddieInCA says:

    Oh man….

    Is this a possibility….?

    Sessions runs as a Republican.
    Doug Jones runs as a Democrat.
    Roy Moore runs as an Independent.

    I’d pay money to see that campaign.

    ReplyReply
  7. Kathy says:

    Remember Trump has a lousy records backing Senate candidates in Alabama. First he backed Strange in the primary, and he lost to Moore. Then he backed Moore in the election and he lost to Jones.

    Ok. the latter involved extraordinary circumstances. We all know about Mr. Moore’s perversion. But, he still backed a loser in Strange.

    ReplyReply
  8. Teve says:

    Holy shit Sessions just released an ad and it’s 30 seconds of kissing Trump’s ass.

    ReplyReply
  9. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    Maybe 30 seconds is all he can afford?

    ReplyReply
  10. inhumans99 says:

    I just want to know one thing, if he wants to keep up his Holy War against that most sinful of plants, weed. If so, the phrase keep forking that chicken comes to mind, because he is trying to hold back a tsunami with a 4ft tall sea wall that has already been battered by 3 cat 5 hurricanes.

    I do not smoke, but I am in CA and for the most part I do not begrudge folks who want to get by with a little help from weed.

    ReplyReply
  11. CSK says:

    @Teve: Jeebus, wasn’t that appalling? Sessions must have zero self-respect.

    ReplyReply
  12. Teve says:

    @CSK: I <3 it.

    ReplyReply
  13. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Yeah, Sessions reminds me of a dog that’s been whipped to within an inch of its life, repeatedly, trying to crawl back into its sadistic owner’s good graces.

    ReplyReply

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