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Jeff Sessions jumps into race to reclaim Alabama Senate seat

Laura Litvan, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

"Sessions certainly has name ID and a campaign war chest, but it's not clear that he can clear a primary field," Duffy said. "He can make a run-off, but can he win one? That depends on what stance Trump takes. It doesn't appear that Trump and Sessions have mended their fences. As for the general election, Sessions would certainly be the favorite given that it is a presidential year."

The state's other senator, Republican Richard Shelby, said he'll endorse Sessions and that his former colleague has his own pull with voters in the state that would help support him even if Trump lashes out.

"He has run before, he is very popular," Shelby said.

Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign, creating an alliance built on shared support for tougher policies on illegal immigration and a wariness of some trade deals that they said hurt the working class. He went on to advise Trump on national security and foreign policy during the election, and his longtime aide, Stephen Miller, became a senior policy adviser to the campaign and later in the White House.

Sessions was confirmed as attorney general on a 52-47 vote, after testifying that he wasn't aware of contacts between members of the Trump presidential campaign and Russian officials. But news reports later showed he had been in contact with Russians, and he recused himself from the broader investigations into Russian 2016 election meddling.

As attorney general, Sessions adopted a hard line on immigration policy, including implementing a "zero tolerance" policy at the southern U.S. border that led to family separations. He also took the position that cities that don't comply with federal immigration laws should lose federal funding. Trump signed an executive order revoking funding for such cities but it was successfully challenged in federal court

Sessions also supported allowing the Justice Department to prosecute providers of medical marijuana.

In the Senate, as the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he helped lead the fight against Obama's Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who were both eventually confirmed. He was term-limited out of the job and became the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. He was also a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.


He took the toughest immigration stance of any GOP senator. In 2010 he spearheaded efforts to defeat a House-passed bill that would have provided a path to legal status for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. as children. The status of those immigrants has remained in limbo ever since.

A native of Selma, Ala., Sessions was a private practicing attorney before becoming the U.S. attorney for Alabama in 1981 at the age of 34. In 1986, his bid to become a federal district court judge was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee after Democrats accused Sessions of having made racially insensitive remarks.

Sessions served about six more years as Alabama's top prosecutor, then was elected state attorney general in 1994 before making his first successful bid for the Senate. When he replaced retiring Democratic Sen. Howell Heflin, his victory gave Alabama two Republican Senate seats for the first time since Reconstruction.

(James Rowley contributed to this report.)

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