The Slatest

Jeff Sessions to Announce Run for His Old Senate Seat. But Can He Beat Trump?

Jeff Sessions' television image is reflected in President Donald Trump's official portrait during a news conference at the Department of Justice December 15, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Jeff Sessions’ television image is reflected in President Donald Trump’s official portrait at the Department of Justice.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to announce Thursday he will run for his old Senate seat in Alabama, potentially setting up a high-profile standoff over his candidacy with his old boss—President Donald Trump. Sessions enters the race a day before the filing deadline in what will likely be a bruising nomination fight in a crowded GOP field. The party sees itself as the rightful owner of Sessions’ old seat that was swiped by Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in a 2017 special election against a deeply divisive Republican nominee in former Judge Roy Moore.

Sessions has plenty going for him in the race and will rely on his name recognition and conservative bona fides during a two-decade history representing the state in the Senate. But this is 2020, the era of Trump, and that might not be enough given that Trump has signaled his intention to publicly attack his former attorney general if he runs. Despite Sessions being an early supporter of Trump’s candidacy, one of the few that existed within the Washington political establishment, Trump turned on Sessions when he recused himself from the Russia investigation. Trump saw the recusal as a sign of weakness and because responsibility for the investigation then fell to Sessions’ deputy Rod Rosenstein, who went on to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel, Trump basically blames the entirety of the Mueller investigation on Sessions.

Trump has indicated privately to aides that not only does he not support Sessions run but that he will actively oppose him. The Washington Post reports that Trump has joked to senators and White House staff that he would move to Alabama himself to run against Sessions, if the former senator were to get into the race. The New York Times reports that Trump has made it clear that he would not support Sessions, who reportedly made his decision to run without speaking to Trump or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Mr. Trump sent word to Mr. Sessions through allies that he would publicly attack him if he ran,” according to the Times. “And Mr. McConnell recently approached Mr. Trump, asking him whether his feelings about Mr. Sessions might have improved. The president said he was very much still opposed to Mr. Sessions and would make that clear if he had to, according to a person briefed on the discussions.”

The national Republican establishment also has indicated it is wary of a Sessions return that could, once again, pave the way for Roy Moore to win the March 3 nomination in a crowded field. Already in the race are: Rep. Bradley Byrne and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, who are the early leaders in the polls, along with Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, state Rep. Arnold Mooney, and Roy Moore.

Given Trump’s extreme popularity in the state, Sessions’ soured relationship with the president is going to be a clear line of attack despite his history. Byrne, an early front-runner, previewed the way Sessions will likely be hit—as not sufficiently sticking up for Trump—during the campaign in a statement about his prospective entrance into the race. “From the Mueller investigation to this impeachment sham, President Trump has been under constant attack,” Byrne said. “I won’t sit back and watch them destroy our country. Alabama deserves a Senator who will stand with the president and won’t run away and hide from the fight.”