Jeff Sessions’ Senate decorum
The Alabama legislator answers criticism with principle
Alabama’s Jeff Sessions is a senator from a different day. He’s unfailingly polite, rarely has a bad thing to say even about those of his colleagues with whom he strongly disagrees, and truly seems to revere the institution of which he is a part. When he rises to speak, his colleagues listen knowing that regardless of whether they agree with him, the case he makes will be fact-based, intellectually sound, rational and logical.
Although Mr. Sessions is in his fourth term, serves on the Senate Judiciary, Budget and Armed Services committees, and chairs the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration where he wields real power on one of the major issues of the day, the soft-spoken Mr. Sessions received little national attention until he surprised the political world earlier this year by endorsing Donald Trump over his Texas colleague Ted Cruz, though Mr. Cruz had been touting him on the campaign trail as a good friend, ally and one of the senators he most admires.
To the extent that he has been noticed in the past by the national media it has been to dismiss his views on immigration as beyond the establishment pale or to remind people that when then President Ronald Reagan nominated him for a federal judicial seat, his nomination died in the Senate following fiery attacks from Democrats and the defection of two Republican senators. His nomination fell to the increasingly common liberal tactic of denouncing virtually everyone with whom they disagree as a “racist” or bigot.
Prior to that, Mr. Sessions had served for a dozen years as a U.S. attorney and he went on to be elected Alabama attorney general in 1994 and U.S. senator two years later where he found himself sitting next to many of the men and women who had demonized him and voted down his nomination not that many years before. Mr. Sessions said he found his situation “ironic,” but got along even with those who had tried to destroy his career.
In the years since, Mr. Sessions has compiled a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of just over 94, making him one of the most reliable conservatives in the Senate, but has at the same time won praise from many who had earlier criticized him. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, one of the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee to vote against Mr. Session’s judicial nomination, later left the GOP. But as he was preparing to leave made a point that his vote against Mr. Sessions had been a “mistake” as the man with whom he later served on that same committee was far different from the one characterized earlier by his Democratic opponents.
In fact, Mr. Sessions seems unable to harbor personal grudges. To disagree with some of his colleagues of either party is to risk being cast into the outer darkness, but the Alabaman will argue his case and, win or lose, move on. He is man who is both conservative and partisan without being personally disagreeable, and that is far rarer than it once was in Washington and in the Senate. In a sense. though he doesn’t attract nearly the attention that North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms did a generation ago, the reality of the man differs greatly from what one might expect from the way the media views him. Mr. Helms was constantly vilified by the media, but poll after poll of those who worked with him found him among the most respectful members of the Senate.
It turned out, as reporters delved into Mr. Sessions’ reasoning, that he and Mr. Trump have had a friendly though arm’s length relationship for decades. When Mr. Sessions in 2005 questioned the taxpayer money the government was preparing to spend to modernize and expand the U.N. building in New York, Mr. Trump volunteered to testify on the costs contemplated before his subcommittee. The Washington Post reported later that that Mr. Trump’s testimony was “the best” he had ever heard before a Senate Committee and the two men have been friends ever since.
In the wake of his endorsement of Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions came under heavy fire from the Never Trump crowd. Red State, for example, credited the senator as principled on immigration while questioning his intelligence and judgment. Others chimed in attacking him for “selling out” Mr. Cruz or his principles. These critics had to be people who neither knew the senator nor understand what drives him.
Right or wrong, the junior senator from Alabama is a thinking man’s senator who deserves far more respect than he seems to get. David A. Keene is Opinion editor at The Washington Times.