Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions faced his toughest political fight in three decades.
The Washington Post reported that Sessions failed to disclose two meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States, during his attorney general confirmation hearings.
What happened after that was very unfamiliar for those of us that have been watching Sessions for the last 20 years. For the first time, he seemed rattled. His answers at a press conference and later in an interview on cable news were not as forceful and concise as Alabamians have been accustomed to.
For years Sessions has been able to straddle that line between an ideological champion of conservative populism and reaper of federal funding for the Yellowhammer State.
People in Alabama loved him for it, and he may very well be the most popular politician in the history of the state. Even former Alabama Gov. George Wallace faced opposition in statewide elections at the heights of his popularity.
Sessions in his last senatorial bid ran unopposed.
Although he has a couple of decades under his belt, the orbit of presidential politics is much harder to navigate.
Before being the Attorney General of the U.S., arguably one of the top five most powerful positions in the federal government, the best Sessions could have hoped for was being a chairman of a Senate committee.
He was even denied the chairmanship of the Budget Committee when the GOP took control of the Senate in 2014 — on a technicality, after having served as the ranking member.
Now things are different.
Not a lot of people inside the beltway thought they would be hearing news reports about President Donald Trump defending Attorney General Jeff Sessions a year ago. At that time, it would have seemed unthinkable.
Now the knives are out for Sessions.
Fortunately for Sessions, the attacks are coming from the Democratic caucus, which has shown an unwillingness to learn any lessons from its 2016 election defeat. Their tactics, however, are almost impressive compared to how the GOP handled opposing former President Barack Obama.
We are just over a month into Trump’s first term, and the Democratic opposition has collected at least one scalp. Trump’s now-former national security adviser, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Gen. Michael Flynn who stepped down after just 24 days.
It is unlikely that Sessions will be ousted. But the U.S. Attorney General position has always been tough.
Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder faced continuous scrutiny as Obama’s AGs — “Fast and Furious,” wiretapping of journalists, the Hillary Clinton email server investigation, etc.
For the Bush administration, it was just as bad. Immediately after former President George W. Bush was elected, the media nitpicked John Ashcroft. Then his opponents went after Alberto Gonzales, who wound up resigning a year before the 2008 election.
Before that? It was Janet Reno, who served as former President Bill Clinton’s attorney general from March 12, 1993, through January 20, 2001. She certainly faced her share of controversies.
Given that history, it is likely Alabama’s own Sessions is going to be a constant target of Trump’s opponents at least through 2020.
However, unlike Republican opposition to Democratic U.S. Attorney Generals, the Democrats have not wasted time. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have already called for his resignation. Could we have imagined House Minority Leader John Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell doing anything similar shortly after Obama’s inauguration?
No, the Democrats are cutthroat. Republican voters might hope the GOP would be capable of playing that same game, but they just are not.
It is going to be a rough few years for fans of Jeff Sessions. Given our history of attorney generals over the last 25 years, this will probably be the first of many attacks leveled against him. Brace yourselves for that.
So what’s next? If Sessions was ever really in trouble, expect to hear rumblings of his 2018 gubernatorial bid.
Let’s face it — the governor of Alabama’s office is one of the most disgraced in recent U.S. history. Obviously, Robert Bentley has been a disappointment in his second term. Bob Riley was decent, despite his push for a $1.2 billion tax increase. But the list before that? Don Siegelman (felon), Fob James (War Eagle), Little Jim Folsom (inherited after forced resignation), Guy Hunt (felon) and George Wallace (hoping to relive the glory days?).
It has not been that great.
So, in the worst-case scenario — if this AG thing goes south for Sessions — he is a shoo-in for Alabama governor.
As an Alabamian, it might not be the worst thing in the world, given the state’s history.
Imagine Sessions in Montgomery. Talk about a place that needs the swamp drained. Republicans and Democrats alike have tried, but Montgomery continues to disappoint. Sessions might be the guy to do it.
To be sure, as a U.S. Attorney General, Sessions will have a much larger impact on the direction of the country.