With former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions running to reclaim his seat, many of the president’s strongest supporters have noted that no member of the Senate would be more supportive of the Trump agenda than Sessions. Implicit in this truth is the recognition that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not been fully supportive of the Trump agenda. Helping to pull the Senate GOP away from McConnell and toward Trump would cement Trump’s legacy beyond 2020.
In spite of claiming credit for Trump judges (which insiders will tell you is moving far slower than it should, and with costly errors), Senate leadership — McConnell in particular — have done very little to advance the Trump agenda. McConnell has been called one of the “most powerless power players in Washington,” and with good reason — the Senate, for all the appearance otherwise, still operates in an informal, collegial matter where individual senators have much more power than they realize, and party leadership has no real control.
The biggest exception to this is leadership’s control of the calendar, which is used to protect the marginal Republicans, by ensuring that embarrassing votes don’t arise that might jeopardize a squishy Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), or Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).
And yet, with his ability to direct money in primaries and to lean on the president to endorse #NeverTrump candidates like Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), McConnell is, to an extent, able to define what the marginal Republican is, to exacerbate a collective action problem and ensure the GOP caucus remains weak, and unaware of its own potential power.
Enter Jeff Sessions. As strong as Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has been in support of the MAGA agenda, and as far as Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have moved in the president’s direction, each of these younger senators has years in the Senate in front of them, donors to placate, and presidential aspirations to entertain.
This isn’t the case for Sessions. A quick look at his FEC records indicates that he ended his last reelection with no debt and almost $3 million cash on hand. This war chest, plus his strong fundraising ability, will allow him to reenter the Senate owing no favors to big money. He has no higher office to seek, having no presidential ambitions and no aspirations to become a part of the “Davos set,” with a lifestyle to manage and Beltway lobbyists to worry about offending. Further, it’s nearly inconceivable that he runs again in 2026.
Put together, a Sessions would be free from all of the strings which limit the kind of thoughtful lawmaking that the Senate has historically been known for. He is also no bomb-thrower; he has sponsored broad bipartisan legislation in the past. On the president’s signature issues, Sessions could only be an asset, helping to pull together Democrats and Republicans on issues of broad public consensus: stronger borders, a realistic foreign policy, and trade deals which favor the American worker.
Sessions could enter the Senate in 2021 and immediately begin serving as an elder statesman with no fear of reprisal, and the ability to actually legislate. As former Sen. James Buckley and others have noted, new senators are placed on a treadmill of fundraising and pointless cover votes that make the Senate today a shadow of its former self. Senators do not know their own power, and Senate leadership is able to exploit this, to the disadvantage of individual senators, the president, and the American people.
Against this, an honest ally of the president, able to keep the heat on the caucus and expand the tent, would be invaluable.
Andrew Kloster is deputy director of the C. Boyden Gray Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason University’s Scalia Law School. He previously served as associate general counsel at the U.S. Department of Transportation and as a legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.