Jeff Ses­sions’ Sen­ate deco­rum

The Alabama leg­is­la­tor an­swers crit­i­cism with prin­ci­ple

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By David A. Keene

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.

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