JEFF SESSIONS TEACHES A LESSON IN PATRIOTIC GRACE
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is not known on Capitol Hill to retreat from a fight. When it comes to offering maximal resistance to President Obama, particularly on the issue of immigration, Sessions takes a back seat to no one. That’s why Republicans and Democrats alike were watching anxiously as Sessions prepared to step into his expected role as chairman of the powerful Budget Committee. That post would allow Sessions to steer GOP policy and strategies in profound ways. As the ranking Republican on the committee for the last four years, Sessions’ role was so prefigured that few bothered to note that Wyoming’s Mike Enzi was, literally by chance, the senior Republican on the panel. The two men were elected on the same day in 1996, but by Senate tradition, seniority among freshmen is determined by drawing names out of a hat. Enzi won the draw 18 years ago, a fact of which he reminded surprised colleagues in announcing his intention to seek the chairmanship.
[David Drucker explains one reason why House leaders were so eager to shuck the year-end spending package and get out of town: A big to-do list for 2015, with a handy-dandy timeline, too.]
Getting ugly – The rebel camp in the GOP conference quickly branded Enzi a leadership pigeon, pushed into the power play by party bosses looking to block Session’s immigration gambits. Committee chairmanships are determined by election among the majority party’s members, a dozen GOPers in the case of the Budget Committee. But it has been since 1987 when Jesse Helms upended Richard Lugar that the selection of any chairmanship has been contested. When majorities change, ranking members almost always rise to chairmanships or deals are made to trade spots before any ugliness ensues. But the Sessions-Enzi fight was setting up to be an ugly battle as outside groups started weighing in and accusations were flying fast. Then Sessions did something wholly unexpected in politics: He did not obey his own ambitions. Having been convinced that his old friend and colleague was sincerely interested in leaving a conservative legacy in the Senate (perhaps because former State Department official Liz Cheney attempted to knock off Enzi in a primary challenge this year, accusing the staunchly conservative senator of lily-liveredness), Sessions stepped aside. That move spared the members of the committee a painful vote and diffused what could have been another chance for moderate and conservative pressure groups to deepen enmity between the wings of the party.