Sessions: A tea partyer before the tea party was cool

Alabama senator quietly builds a record of conservatism

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Long before there was a Sen. Ted Cruz filibustering Obamacare on the Senate floor or a Sen. Rand Paul demanding answers on government drone policy, Sen. Jeff Sessions was holding the Senate floor for hours on end, espousing classic tea party stances against higher spending and expanding presidential powers long before the tea party movement existed.

From judicial nominees to spending to last year’s immigration bill, the Alabama Republican has led the opposition to some of the big-ticket items on President Obama’s domestic agenda — though he has done it without the kind of presidential campaign speculation that many of his colleagues face.


PHOTOS: A tea partyer before tea party was cool


“Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul may get all the national media attention, but for better or worse, Sen. Sessions day in and day out has been the most vocal critic of the president and his policies,” said Jim Manley, a longtime aide to top Senate Democrats. “He spends hours on the floor criticizing the president on a whole host of issues.”

Mr. Sessions, who is favored to win a fourth Senate term in November, also has been a roadblock for some fellow Republicans, particularly on immigration reform, and in clashes pitting the interests of Main Street against those of the business class — a key distinction that sets the tea party aside from other conservative movements.

“It is time for the Republican Party to understand that it represents all people in America, in particular working people who have not done well enough in recent years,” Mr. Sessions told The Washington Times. “It is not enough to talk about entrepreneurs and job creators because most Americans work for somebody.”

His willingness to take on all comers has won Mr. Sessions a deep pool of admirers.

“Jeff Sessions is, without question, the most solid conservative senator,” said Mike McKenna, a Republican strategist. “He is always, always, always doing the right thing, riding to the sound of the guns, and making trouble for the bad guys.”

Mr. Sessions shows no signs of slowing down: Last week, he was actively lobbying House Republicans at their retreat in Cambridge, Md., against a statement of principles on immigration policy that included legal status for illegal immigrants and a path to citizenship for younger illegals brought to the United States by their parents.

The irony is that if it were not for Democrats, Mr. Sessions probably never would have made it to the Senate.

In 1986, President Reagan nominated Mr. Sessions to be a federal district court judge in Alabama. But Senate Democrats — led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and current Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont — cast Mr. Sessions as a relic of the racist Jim Crow South and blocked his confirmation.

Mr. Sessions went on to become Alabama’s state attorney general and won his Senate seat in 1996, succeeding retiring Democrat Howard Heflin. He won his 2008 race comfortably, with 63 percent of the vote.

No hard feelings

Mr. Manley, a longtime aide to Mr. Kennedy, said Mr. Sessions never showed any ill will toward his boss when he arrived in Washington.

“The first time Sen. Kennedy introduced me to Sen. Sessions, we were in a members-only elevator and he couldn’t be more gracious,” Mr. Manley said.

Mr. Sessions told The Times that Democrats leveled bogus accusations against him, but he harbored no hard feelings.

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