Will Jeff Sessions Strike Back In 2015?

W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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Christmas is over, but in Washington the Festivus-like airing of grievances never ends.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions won’t be the next chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, but he’s too much of a Southern gentleman to air his grievances publicly. Already increasingly aligning with conservative senators who enjoy rocking the boat, such as Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, will this tendency increase since he won’t be wielding the gavel?

The official story is that Sessions graciously bowed to Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi’s seniority.

“We have talked, and I am deferring to his seniority so that he can lead the Budget Committee as its chairman beginning in 2015,” Sessions said in a statement. “Mike graciously deferred to me two years ago after he timed out on HELP as ranking member, and it has been my enormous privilege to serve as the panel’s ranking member these last four years, as well as to serve as the Judiciary ranking member for the two years before that.”

For his part, Enzi said Sessions will play a “significant role” in cutting wasteful spending and reforming welfare in the new Congress.

Simple as that, move along, nothing to see here.

Possible, but curious for several reasons. Enzi and Sessions were both elected to the Senate the same year. Enzi’s seniority was literally picked out of a hat 18 years ago. Lamar Alexander, the Republican who will chair the Senate HELP Committee, wasn’t elected until 2002. Bob Corker, the incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was elected in 2006.

If Enzi had been burning with a passion to take over the Senate Budget Committee, it didn’t show. He allowed Sessions to stay on as the committee’s ranking Republican two years ago. Enzi retirement rumors have dated back to 2008, after he was reportedly passed over for a seat on the Senate Finance Committee.

“Sen. Mike Enzi did not publicly disclose his interest in the [Budget] gavel until recently,” the Montgomery Advertiser reported. “Before that, it seemed all but certain Sessions would take it when the GOP assumes control of the Senate in January.”

Once Enzi did declare, however, suddenly Sessions was the interloper. “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,” an Enzi spokesman told The Daily Caller in November.

Five days later, The Washington Post ran a story headlined, “In chairman fight, Jeff Sessions is battling his perception on immigration debate.” The piece noted “Sessions has undercut party leaders with his strident opposition to President Obama’s immigration action, even raising the specter of another fiscal showdown that resembles previous confrontations with the White House.”

“Party leaders are eager to fight back against the president,” the Post reported (presumably with a straight face), “but in a more measured way in line with their desire to show that they are up to the task of governing.”

Former Jim DeMint aide Gaston Mooney was less diplomatic. “If Sessions loses the chair of the Budget Committee,” he wrote in Conservative Review, “it is only under the orders and direction of Mitch McConnell.”

“Republican leadership in the Senate wants to kick Sessions off the budget committee and take the chairmanship away from him and give it to Mike Enzi of Wyoming,” Rush Limbaugh said.

That was the buzz behind the scenes, but there was no smoking gun. When asked whether leadership or the immigration fight had anything to do with Enzi’s sudden interest in the Budget Committee, Sessions sympathizers on Capitol Hill frequently behaved as if they were being asked to break omertà.

Sessions was not only willing to fight the president’s executive amnesty. He was willing to frame the entire immigration issue along more populist lines, like Dave Brat did when he defeated sitting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary.

Enzi has a solidly conservative voting record, but was mostly known for fighting for the Internet sales tax.

Yet Sessions didn’t seem to want to fight Enzi, even though National Review and prominent talk show hosts like Limbaugh were in his corner. A soft-spoken man, he didn’t turn the Senate Budget Committee into the latest front in a battle between conservatives and the Republican establishment.

Unencumbered by the gavel, one wonders if he will recover his fight next year. He should at least have an updated list of who’s been naughty or nice.

W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.