The former attorney general is trying to reclaim his old seat in Alabama but must contend with a president who has been sharply critical.
Jeff Sessions should enter the Senate race in Alabama as the frontrunner: He’s a national figure with endorsements from multiple senators, a hefty war chest and the benefit of having won four previous elections to the seat.
But there’s one major obstacle: President Donald Trump.
Sessions’ relationship with Trump deteriorated during his tenure as attorney general after Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department’s Russia investigation, and the president has continued to publicly criticize his former ally in the year since he departed the administration.
Now, Sessions — who announced his candidacy Thursday night in a news release posted on his website — faces the challenging task of winning back the president’s support or becoming one of the only Republicans in the past three years to win a GOP primary without Trump’s backing. If successful, he would face Sen. Doug Jones, the Democratic incumbent, who is widely viewed as the most vulnerable senator on the ballot next year.
A handful of Sessions former colleagues are ready to endorse his bid, a show of strength in a crowded Republican primary field. Sen. Richard Shelby, Alabama’s senior senator, has said he would back Sessions. Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and John Barrasso of Wyoming, both members of GOP leadership, also told POLITICO on Thursday they would back their former colleague. Other endorsements are expected, as well.
But most of Sessions’ former colleagues are remaining on the sidelines for the crowded primary, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee will remain neutral.
Sessions flew back to Washington on Thursday from Chicago, where he gave a speech at Northwestern University, in time for an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. Carlson is a longtime Sessions friend, and his nightly program draws a wide conservative audience — including the president.
“I was there for the Trump agenda every day I was in the Senate, no doubt about it,” Sessions said in the interview, during which he repeatedly praised Trump and portrayed himself as a top ally of his agenda. He also took several shots at Republicans currently in Congress, saying some remained “standoff-ish” with the president and “haven’t been pushing hard enough to advance the Trump agenda.”
Sessions said he did not regret recusing himself from the Russia investigation — a decision that still infuriates Trump. But he did push back on the impeachment inquiry Trump faces in the House, saying that the president has faced a “continuous political attack” but that Trump “conducted himself in this matter within the law” in his dealings with Ukraine.
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