A soft-spoken Republican lawmaker is arguing that he is next in line to take over the gavel of the Senate budget committee instead of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a conservative favorite.
Sessions, known for his outspoken opposition to the Obama administration’s immigration policies, is currently the top Republican on the budget committee. It was assumed he would become chairman when Republicans take control of the Senate in January.
But in a move that has shocked Republicans on Capitol Hill, Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi is now making a play for the chairmanship, telling fellow lawmakers he has seniority over Sessions to take over the committee in January.
Daniel Head, Enzi’s spokesman, confirmed to The Daily Caller on Friday that Enzi is seeking the budget chairmanship.
“Under the Republican conference rules, he has seniority for the post and it is Senator Sessions that is challenging him, not the other way around,” Head said. “Senator Sessions is currently the ranking member because Senator Enzi did not exert his seniority two years ago.”
Sessions and Enzi both entered the U.S. Senate the same year, but under the complicated rules of the Senate, Enzi is considered more senior.
It likely won’t be decided until January who gets the seat. The Republicans on the committee would vote a secret ballot for chairman.
Enzi briefly faced a primary challenge in this year’s election from Liz Cheney, who argued the senator wasn’t aggressive enough in promoting his conservative views in the Senate. Sessions, meanwhile, is known as a reliable voice against the Obama administration’s policies, logging more time as a speaker on the Senate floor than any other senator in 2013.
To reassure conservatives, the Enzi spokesman emphasized Friday the senator’s conservative views, especially on immigration.
“Senator Enzi hopes to use his committee assignments next year to reduce the debt and balance the federal budget; repeal Obamacare; reverse the president’s illegal executive amnesty; and reform our outdated tax code,” Head said.
“Senator Enzi has long been an opponent of executive amnesty,” the spokesman said. “He is in favor of using any appropriate, viable and constitutional means to stop the president’s overreach.”
Despite the challenge, the Enzi spokesman said the senators remain friendly. “Senator Enzi and Senator Sessions were friends before this, are still friends, and will be after this,” Head said. “They will work it out.”
But conservative talk radio is fuming over Enzi’s play for the seat.
“Mike Enzi is a nice guy, but he’s not a battler,” Rush Limbaugh said this week. “So if the leadership wants to get Sessions out of the way… That alone tells you what the Republican leadership’s mind-set is on this.”
A Sessions spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday afternoon. We’ll update when we hear back.