WASHINGTON — Earlier this month, the midterm elections swept Senate Republicans back into power for the first time since 2006.
Things had been looking pretty rosy for conservatives. It appeared to be the beginning of the reversal and another repudiation of President Barack Obama’s policies. Sure, it’d be a tough fight, but without a Democratic Senate to run interference, Obama would be put into the uncomfortable position of being forced to compromise.
Things also looked good for the state of Alabama, which stood to have both of its U.S. Senators, Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, chair two very powerful committees — the Senate Banking and Budget committees, respectively.
That euphoria came to an abrupt halt last week with the president’s decision to proceed with his executive order to change immigration policy.
On Thursday night, Obama addressed the nation to announce he would unilaterally create programs to defer the deportations of an estimated 4.5 million illegal aliens, thus giving them a legal status in the United States.
Despite their resounding victory just two weeks earlier, Republican leaders in Congress have shown very little willingness to take on Obama with the power of the purse through the budget process, or the method of last resort — impeachment.
The pushback strategy instead centers on the idea of a lawsuit, along the lines of or in conjunction with a suit filed last week by House Speaker John Boehner on behalf of the U.S. Congress challenging the administration’s unilateral changes to Obamacare. It’s not clear, however, whether or not the courts will grant Boehner standing, or if it’s even constitutional given the explicit means spelled out in the U.S. Constitution on how the legislative branch may keep executive power in check.
Immediately before and after the White House’s announcement, Jeff Session took up the banner against the action, as its chief critic — not only behind the scenes but also all over television and radio.
“Congress has the power to block this,” Sessions said on a radio show last week. “Congress can fund programs it deems worthy and not fund those that it does not. It should fund the government of the United States but not fund this kind of unlawful scheme.”
Sessions’ rhetoric on immigration is pretty much in line with what he has been saying over the last decade as Alabama’s junior senator.
But his outspokenness on the issue may end up costing him.
For the last several years, Sessions has been the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee — a position that has essentially been a GOP placeholder, as the U.S. Senate under Harry Reid has not passed a budget for political reasons since the beginning of Obama’s presidency.
Sessions used his tenure wisely, speaking out on the immigration issue, the growth of welfare and combatting government waste. But, he was able to achieve little in his official role as ranking member.
Having paid his dues in that role, Sessions looked to be in line for Budget Committee chairman. It appears, however, that won’t actually be the case.
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has thrown his name in the mix for that chairmanship. Despite both Enzi and Sessions having assumed office in 1997, according to the rules of the Senate, Enzi is the more senior member. Thus, Enzi would edge out Sessions for the committee’s gavel.
It’s been speculated that Enzi is seeking the chairmanship at the behest of soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is apparently not looking for budget fight with the White House on the issue of immigration.
That theory was laid out by conservative talker Rush Limbaugh last week.
“So the story is out there that they want to get rid of Sessions and remove him from the Budget Committee chairmanship and put Mike Enzi in there,” Limbaugh broadcast recently. “Mike Enzi is a nice guy, but he’s not a battler. So if the leadership wants to get Sessions out of the way … that alone tells you where the Republican leadership mind-set is on this. They want to take out the one primary voice of opposition to this and remove him from his position as chairman of the Budget Committee. That pretty much tells us that there isn’t going to be any opposition to Obama. So no impeachment and probably limited use of spending denial, power of the purse.”
According to the American Conservative Union, both Sessions and Enzi rate very high as conservatives, with ratings of 94 and 92 respectively. So, there’s not exactly a threat of Enzi caving to a pro-immigration reform movement. But, as it goes, Enzi would not create waves whereas Sessions based on his past performances certainly would.
Sessions hasn’t had anyone rally to his side in this contest. With so much on the line, particularly regarding the state of Alabama, one would think Richard Shelby would speak out on Sessions’ behalf.
Lagniappe reached out to Shelby’s office last week, to which his communications director declined to comment.
A decision like won’t be made until January to determine who gets the chairmanship seat, which will be settled by a secret ballot vote of Republican committee members.
That gives members some time to find religion and rally around Sessions. Otherwise, the opportunity to reel in the perceived overreach of the executive branch with this Republican majority could be missed.