WASHINGTON – Back in September, the “inside-the-Beltway” and national media, turned its attention to the tactics of Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah as they orchestrated a 21-hour-long demonstration on the Senate floor to draw attention to the flaws of President Barack Obama’s controversial 2010 health care reform law.
Democrats, and some Republicans, immediately derided Lee and Cruz’s effort to stop Obamacare by using Congress’ power of the purse to defund it. The pair, along with 12 additional Republican senators, threatened to use the strategy in a letter to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid two months earlier.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ name was not on that letter.
Although Sessions participated in the Cruz- and Lee-led filibuster, he signaled early on that he was not necessarily on board with the idea of taking the U.S. government to a shutdown in the name of defeating Obamacare.
In the midst of the drama on the Senate floor, on the other side of Capitol Hill, the U.S. House moved to defund Obamacare through the budget process as well, ultimately resulting in the partial shutdown of the federal government for two weeks. After two weeks of posturing, rhetoric, and negotiations, Republican House Speaker John Boehner conceded to Democrat demands and the government reopened.
Sessions acknowledged that Republicans took a public relations hit, with little to show for it.
“There were some great people that shared the goals of Lee and Cruz who felt there is a better way of doing this and that this could end up in a damaging situation, and I think it hasn’t been good right now,” Sessions said in a radio interview after the dust had settled from the shutdown. “What we can hope is we have to see the value of the energy that Cruz and Lee and others have created and harness that in a more positive way.”
Earlier this summer, Sessions waged his own campaign against another left-wing political hobbyhorse: comprehensive immigration reform. But Sessions took a less flashy approach.
Rather than seek out bookings on every one of Fox News Channel’s prime time shows and running to the gaggle of reporters outside the Senate chamber whenever the opportunity presented itself, Sessions had a different strategy. Mobile’s own would go to the floor of the U.S. Senate and give speech after speech after speech, but not doing so in a way that might draw attention the same way a 21-hour filibuster would have.
In one month, between May 28 of this year, when the so-called “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee through the time it passed in the U.S. Senate on June 27, Sessions spoke 30 different times on immigration for a grand total of just under 13 hours to lay out the case.
When asked about the on-going efforts behind the scenes to pull off such a feat, a Sessions aide described the junior Alabama senator’s effort as “tireless.”
“He battled some of the most powerful special interests in Washington in order to defend the security of our laws and the wages of struggling workers,” the aide told Lagniappe.
Although the outcome of that fight is now in the hands of the U.S. House, the effort from Sessions has earned him immense praise from the Tea Party faction in the Senate.
Beyond immigration, Sessions had been the leader among the Republican caucus in the Senate in other key battles including compelling the Democratic-controlled Senate to pass its first budget in four years, and then spearheaded the Republican opposition against President Barack Obama’s nomination of Jack Lew for Treasury Secretary. Also throughout 2012 and into 2013 he and his office singlehandedly made the case for welfare reform.
A lot of it has gone unnoticed especially by the national media. Agree or disagree with the policies, Sessions efforts haven’t been as polarizing as the more aggressive Ted Cruz.
Following the reopening of the federal government, some Republican members grumbled about the Cruz- and Lee-led strategy that seemingly forced their hands in the vote to tie Obamacare to the funding of the government by selling their constituents a hopeless cause.
Among those were Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, who seemed to go along with the strategy despite having said throughout the months prior in her town hall visits that it wouldn’t work and admitted as much after the fact.
“The problem is the ‘shutdown strategy’ damaged the House’s bargaining power in these negotiations,” Roby said immediately prior to the House vote that led to the reopening of the federal government. “Despite my fierce opposition to Obamacare, I have always been honest with my constituents about the improbability of repealing or defunding the law until Republicans regain control of the Senate and eventually the White House.”
Frequently in and around the Senate chamber, Sessions has been seen giving counsel to Cruz and other junior Senate Republican colleagues. And with a fractured GOP, especially following the government shutdown, there could be a role for Alabama’s junior senator.
Perhaps the anecdote to Republican in-fighting is someone like a Jeff Sessions who has emerged as a member who understands the unspoken code of the Senate, but also has the solid conservative bona fides that have commanded respect from the so-called Tea Party colleagues.