WASHINGTON – Last month, Sen. Jeff Sessions conceded any claims on the 114th Congress’ Senate Budget Committee chairmanship, conceding the powerful position to his friend Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).
The moment Republicans clinched control of the Senate on election night, media outlets around the state of Alabama speculated on the limitless possibilities of Sessions and Sen. Richard Shelby as two chairmen of powerful committees, with Shelby in charge of the Senate Banking Committee.
But to the dismay of Alabamians and to a lot of the rank and file within the conservative movement, Alabama’s junior senator laid to rest any such ambitions.
“My good friend Mike and I have been close since we both entered the Senate together 18 years ago,” Sessions said in a statement announcing the decision. “We will long remain good and close friends. We have talked and I am deferring to his seniority so that he can lead the Budget Committee as its chairman beginning in 2015. Mike graciously deferred to me two years ago after he timed out on HELP as ranking member, and it has been my enormous privilege to serve as the panel’s ranking member these last four years, as well as to serve as the judiciary ranking member for the two years before that.”
The backroom scuttlebutt was that the Republican leadership, mainly soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), didn’t want someone like Jeff Sessions upsetting the applecart by using the federal budget to obstruct any sort of immigration reform measures put in place by the Obama administration, or be seen as an obstructionist if the Republican-led majorities in the House and Senate come together to do their own version of immigration legislation.
There has been some talk of an unlikely Sessions 2016 candidacy, which at this point is nothing more than a right-wing pipedream. Sessions has been mentioned over years by the likes of conservative pundits, including talk show host Laura Ingraham and conservative author Ann Coulter.
But if Sessions won’t take up a fight for the lesser position of Senate Budget Committee chairman, why should base voters in the Republican Party rally behind him in a presidential primary?
Sessions has demonstrated a willingness to take to the floor of the Senate and air his opinions on legislation for the congressional record, adding every little meticulous detail to back up his concerns. He’s also successfully thwarted previous immigration reform efforts in the U.S. Senate.
But if you’re running for president, it is about what you’ve accomplished, not what you’ve prevented from being accomplished.
That would be a major hurdle for Sessions to overcome if he were to be contrasted with the other 2016 Republican hopefuls, including Rick Perry and Jeb Bush, two very successful governors, and Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, two of the more outspoken members of the U.S. Senate.
What it would come to is beyond bringing home funding to the state of Alabama, what has Sessions proactively accomplished in the U.S. Senate? To be fair, Sessions didn’t enjoy seniority within the Republican caucus when his part had control of the body and during his more outspoken times over the last few years, when the Republicans were in the minority, which made it even more difficult for him to stand out.
If Sessions actually had presidential ambitions, he might be better served waiting until 2020 (assuming an incumbent Republican isn’t running), which would put him running for the high office at age 74. That’s five years older than Reagan was in 1980 when he ran. But should it be 2020, Sessions is only 10 months older than likely 2016 Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
But even then, it still seems like a longshot.
There are one or two possible routes for Sessions to set himself up for higher office. But it would mean Sessions doing it not while in office as a U.S. senator.
Let’s say Republicans choose to nominate Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney or any other run-of-the-mill, so-called “Republican establishment type” as the 2016 nominee. There could be a need for someone to balance out the ticket so that it might appeal to the more conservative wing of the GOP.
Sessions would be a good candidate for vice president. He would bring the bona fides that would motivate the more conservative types to participate in the 2016 election, which is much like John McCain did when he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate in the 2008 cycle. He would also have a working knowledge of the U.S. Senate, which seems to be what then-candidate Barack Obama was aiming for when he picked then-Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate.
That would certainly put Sessions in line for the presidency. But even if that doesn’t happen, Sessions would be a prime candidate for attorney general, having served in the Justice Department and as AG in Alabama.
Unlike his 1986 appointment to the federal bench by Reagan, it would be hard to see the Democrats in the U.S. Senate opposing one of their former colleagues of 20 years in January 2017. That also might elevate his stature as a potential candidate.
For now, 2016 isn’t Sessions time. But there’s still time for Alabama’s arguably most popular politician to elevate himself to the national stage.