GOP senators are predicting former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsMcCabe, Rosenstein spar over Russia probe Rosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony Rosenstein defends Mueller appointment, role on surveillance warrants MORE could win back his old Senate seat in Alabama, even as deep divisions with President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE could throw a wild card into a potential comeback bid.
Sessions, who served in the Senate for decades before joining the Trump administration, is considering jumping into a crowded 2020 primary race for the chance to challenge Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.). Though he remains deeply popular within Alabama, a Senate bid would likely put a spotlight on his corrosive relationship with Trump, who announced Sessions’s ousting via Twitter last year.
But GOP senators — eager to win back the Senate seat from Democrats — believe Sessions would be a formidable candidate with a proven ability to win statewide elections.
Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyHouse pushes back schedule to pass spending bills Top Republican says Trump greenlit budget fix for VA health care GOP senators not tested for coronavirus before lunch with Trump MORE (R-Ala.) said on Wednesday he would endorse Sessions if the former attorney general declares his candidacy. Sessions has been publicly tightlipped about his plans, but Shelby said “a lot of indications point to him running.”
“He’s got to win it on the battlefield … but if he runs, all indications are that he would win,” Shelby said.
Pressed on why he thinks Sessions would be a viable contender given Trump’s high-profile criticism, Shelby added that Sessions has “got a lot of goodwill down there.”
“He’s been very popular in the state for a long time,” Shelby added.
Sessions has until next week to make a decision. The state’s filing deadline for the 2020 election is Nov. 8.
In the meantime, he’s been reaching out to the Alabama congressional delegation, including a phone call with Shelby, as he weighs whether to jump into the race. As of Tuesday, Sessions had not made contact with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE (R-Ky.) or the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to a GOP source.
Senate Republicans argue Sessions would have plenty of support if he launches a campaign. Sessions was reelected with more than 97 percent of the vote in 2014. In 2008, the last time he had a Democratic opponent, he won with more than 63 percent of the vote.
Sessions already has nearly $2.6 million in his old campaign account, giving him a springboard to the level of funding that would be needed to win both the primary and the general election against Jones.
Republicans are eager to win back the seat after Jones eked out a victory during a 2017 special election. Republicans view Jones as the most vulnerable Democratic senator up for reelection next year. The Senate race is rated by The Cook Political Report as a toss-up.
Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names The Hill’s Morning Report – Treasury, Fed urge more spending, lending to ease COVID-19 wreckage MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, heaped praise on Sessions, saying he had a “lot of experience and seniority” running campaigns and is “someone who I think could probably win in Alabama.”
“I think in the end it’s going to be dependent upon winning that seat,” Thune said Tuesday, when pressed on whether Sessions could win given Trump’s criticism. “And I think that the president will be very interested in having a Republican majority in the Senate. And if Sen. Sessions looks like the person that can move that seat into our column then I’m guessing that they’ll probably look past some of their differences.”
Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Hillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate headed for late night vote amid standoff over lands bill | Trump administration seeks to use global aid for nuclear projects | EPA faces lawsuit alleging failure to update flaring requirements MORE (Mo.), another member of GOP leadership, said Sessions would have “a broad base of support” in the Senate if he jumps into the race.
“Nobody had better success in Alabama politics than Jeff Sessions or spent less money having that success in recent years,” Blunt said when asked if it was politically realistic to think Sessions could win despite Trump’s criticism.
Sessions served in the Senate for about 20 years before being confirmed in 2017 as Trump’s first attorney general.
The resurgence in GOP support for his potential return to the Senate comes even as he was frequently a gadfly within the Senate Republican caucus. He took hard-line positions on issues like trade and immigration that put him on the fringes but also made him an early ally for then-candidate Trump. Sessions was Trump’s first public supporter in the Senate.
Sessions campaigned for Trump in 2016 and was viewed as a potential vice president before ultimately being tapped to lead the Justice Department.
“He is a world-class legal mind and considered a truly great attorney general and U.S. attorney in the state of Alabama,” Trump said in November 2016 when he named Sessions as his attorney general. “Jeff is greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him.”
But the relationship quickly soured after Sessions recused himself from oversight of the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump publicly fumed for months over Sessions’s decision. He later ousted him just days after the 2018 midterm elections.
Sessions has remained privately and publicly supportive of Trump since then. At a GOP fundraiser earlier this month, he said Trump was “relentlessly and actually honoring the promises he made to the American people.”
But Sessions’s potential primary opponents are warning he will face a public shellacking from Trump if he decides to run.
“The president has been very clear about his extreme displeasure with Jeff Sessions,” Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneOvernight Defense: Pentagon chief says he opposes invoking Insurrection Act for protests | White House dodges on Trump’s confidence in Esper | ‘Angry and appalled’ Mattis scorches Trump Republicans stand by Esper after public break with Trump Democrats press OSHA official on issuing an Emergency Temporary Standard MORE (R-Ala.), who is running for the seat, told The Hill. “For Jeff’s sake, and for the state of Alabama, I hope we don’t have to endure our very popular president at great public odds with Jeff.”
A GOP official acknowledged that a Sessions candidacy could be a wild card because of his relationship with Trump.
“Donald Trump is far more popular with Republican primary voters than Jeff Sessions,” the official said. “There’s a lot of hatred. … He’s not one to let things go.”
The president checked in on the status of the Alabama race during a fundraiser on Tuesday and mentioned the possibility of Sessions running for his old seat, though he didn’t attack the former attorney general, sources said.
Despite more than 11 months going by since Sessions’s firing, Trump has shown no signs of forgiving his former attorney general.
He lashed out at Sessions during an interview earlier this month, saying Sessions was a “total disaster” and “an embarrassment to the great state of Alabama.”
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op MORE (R-S.C.), a close ally of Trump’s, said whether Sessions makes it back to the Senate is up to Alabama voters, but “I thought he was a great senator.”
Asked if Sessions needed to work out his differences with Trump, Graham laughed before responding, “I’m having a hard time with my differences, so I’ll leave that up to him.”
Shelby raised the prospect of a Sessions Senate bid with Trump earlier this year but told The Hill at the time that Trump was “not on board.”
Pressed on his earlier comments on Wednesday, Shelby said that Trump “has told a lot of people that.”
Scott Wong and Al Weaver contributed.
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