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Sessions files to run in GOP primary to reclaim the seat he gave up to become Donald Trump’s attorney general
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
MONTGOMERY (CFP) — In 2017, Jeff Sessions gave up the U.S. Senate seat he had held for 20 years to become President Donald Trump’s first attorney general.
Now, after parting with the president on unhappy terms, Sessions wants that job back — but he’ll have to fight through Trump and a field of Alabama Republicans to get it.
Sessions, 72, who represented Alabama in the Senate from 1997 until 2017, announced November 7 that he will file the paperwork to run for his old seat, which is currently held by Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones.
“It’s not ‘my seat’ in the Senate, but I believe I have something to give,” Sessions said during an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show where he announced his Senate run. “I have some convictions that I think need to be pushed.”
“We need to get some of the Republicans moving. They haven’t been pushing hard enough to advance the Trump agenda,” he said.
Sessions also released a campaign ad which made it clear that he will try to run for the Senate as a pro-Trump candidate, despite his rocky tenure and messy split from the administration.
Watch Jeff Session’s campaign ad at the end of this story.
“When I left President Trump’s Cabinet, did I write a tell-all book? No. Did I go on CNN and attack the president? Nope. Have I said a cross word about our president? Not one time,” Sessions said. “I’ll tell you why. First, that would be dishonorable. I was there to serve his agenda, not mine. Second, the president is doing a great job for America and Alabama, and he has my strong support.”
With Sessions in the race, the looming question is how loudly and often Trump might weigh in against a man he repeatedly dismissed as “weak” and disappointing before eventually firing him.
In the wake of Sessions’s interview with Carlson, Trump told reporters Friday that he has not decided whether to get involved in the race and that Sessions “said very nice things about me.” While not endorsing Sessions, he did not unload on him, either.
On Saturday, the president is visiting Tuscaloosa for the Alabama-LSU football game, putting the state’s Senate race top of mind, particularly for Sessions’s new primary rivals who may be vying for demonstrations of Trump’s favor.
Sessions’s last-minute decision to run — on the final day to file — shakes up a Republican primary race that had already attracted eight candidates, including U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne from Mobile, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, Secretary of State John Merrill, and Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court justice who lost the seat to Jones in 2017 amid allegations of sexual conduct with underage girls.
Perhaps most affected is Byrne, who gave up his House seat to run for the Senate and could now end up out of office if he can’t beat Sessions, a proven vote-getter who has won five statewide races.
Byrne made it clear that Sessions’s fractured relationship with Trump will be part of the upcoming race.
“Alabama deserves a Senator who will stand with the President and won’t run away and hide from the fight,” Byrne said on Twitter.
Tuberville made the same point, calling Sessions “a career politician” who “failed the President at his point of greatest need.”
“[President] Trump said it best when he called Jeff Sessions ‘a disaster’ as AG and an ’embarrassment to [Alabama],” Tuberville said on Twitter.
Trump forced Sessions out as attorney general in 2018 after criticizing him for months for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. The president called Sessions “weak” and said he regretted elevating him to the post.
Sessions’s candidacy did draw a quick endorsement from Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator, Republican Richard Shelby, who said Sessions would be “formidable candidate.”
“Jeff Sessions is a friend. I worked with him every day up here for 20 years,” Shelby said “He’s a man of integrity. Of course, he’ll have to run his own race, and that’s up to the people of Alabama.”
Sessions’s return is the latest twist in a topsy turvy political saga set off by his resignation to join Trump’s Cabinet.
Then-Governor Robert Bentley appointed Republican Luther Strange to the vacant seat. But when Bentley resigned amid a sex scandal, his successor, Governor Kay Ivey, ordered a special election to fill the vacancy, and Moore defeated Strange for the Republican nomination, despite Trump’s vocal support of Strange.
After Moore’s campaign imploded in scandal, Jones won a narrow victory, become the first Democrat to win a Senate race in the Yellowhammer State in 25 years.
Trump weighed in on the race twice, first to try to help Strange beat Moore and then to try to help Moore beat Jones, neither of which worked.
If Jones loses, the new senator would be the fourth person in four years to hold the seat, in a state that previously had not had a Senate vacancy in 20 years.
Jones is considered to be the most endangered 2020 Senate Democrat, running in a state Trump carried by 28 points, but is likely to benefit from turmoil in the Republican primary.
Watch Jeff Session’s new campaign ad:
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Former chief justice ignores Donald Trump’s plea not to seek a rematch of 2017 loss
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will try again in 2020 to get elected to the U.S. Senate, three years after his campaign for the same office imploded amid sexual misconduct allegations — and despite a Twitter plea from President Donald Trump to stay out of the race.
“Can I win? Yes, I can win. Not only can I, they know I can. That’s why there’s such opposition,” Moore said at his June 20 announcement, referring to Republican leaders who will now face the headache of dealing with Moore in the GOP primary as they try to reclaim the seat from Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones.
“Why does the mere mention of my name cause people just to get up in arms in Washington, D.C.?” Moore said. “Is it because I believe in God and marriage and in morality in our country, that I believe in the right of a baby in the womb to have a life? Are these things embarrassing to you?”
Moore’s candidacy is being opposed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of GOP senators, as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senator, Richard Shelby.
But it is the opposition of Trump — hugely popular in the Yellowhammer State — that may be the most formidable Republican obstacle in Moore’s path.
In a May 29 tweet, as speculation swirled that Moore might run, Trump said, “If Alabama does not elect a Republican to the Senate in 2020, many of the incredible gains that we have made during my Presidency may be lost, including our Pro-Life victories. Roy Moore cannot win, and the consequences will be devastating.”
Asked about the president’s opposition during his campaign announcement, Moore reiterated his support for Trump’s agenda and said he believed the president was being pressured to come out against him.
“I think President Trump has every right to voice his opinion. I think he’s being pushed by the NRSC,” Moore said.
Moore, 72, once again denied allegations made by five women that he pursued them sexually when they were teenagers in the 1970s — allegations that proved devastating to his 2017 campaign against Jones.
“I’ve taken a lie-detector test. I’ve take a polygraph test. I’ve done everything I could do,” he said.
Moore also said Jones’s win in 2017 — the first by a Democrat in an Alabama Senate race in 25 years — was “fraudulent” because he was the victim of a “false flag operation using Russian tactics.”
In late 2018, several news organizations reported that a group financed by a Democratic operative used Twitter and Facebook to spread disinformation against Moore, who lost to Jones by just 1 percent of the vote.
Jones, who has said he was not aware of what the group was doing, repudiated what he termed “deceptive tactics” and called for a federal investigation.
In his 2020 announcement, Moore said he suspected “Republican collusion” in the Democratic disinformation campaign, although he didn’t offer specifics.
Moore will be running in the Republican primary against a field that already includes U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne of Mobile, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, Secretary of State John Merrill from Tuscaloosa, and State Rep. Arnold Mooney from suburban Birmingham.
The two top vote getters in the March 2020 primary will advance to a runoff.
The challenge for the NRSC and Senate Republican leaders will be finding a way to work against Moore while remaining neutral among the other candidates. In 2017, their open support of Luther Strange backfired when Moore turned his ties with the Washington establishment into a potent campaign issue.
Moore first gained national notoriety as a local judge in 1995 after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.
He parlayed that prominence into election as Alabama’s chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.
Moore was once again elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after telling local officials that they didn’t have to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
After losing an appeal of his suspension, Moore resigned from the Supreme Court to run for the Senate vacancy created when Jeff Sessions resigned to become Trump’s attorney general.
In 2017, Moore was able to use his base of support from his tenure as chief justice to get into the runoff, where he defeated Strange, who had been appointed to the seat temporarily by disgraced former Governor Robert Bentley.
Trump had backed Strange in the runoff but quickly got on board with Moore once he won. But after the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced, McConnell, Shelby and other Republican Senate leaders abandoned their wounded nominee, even announcing that they would expel him from the Senate if he won.
Jones, who now faces the formidable challenge of trying to hang on to his Senate seat in deep red Alabama, is considered to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the Senate in 2020.
Jones greeted Moore’s announcement with a tweet: “So it looks like my opponent will either be extremist Roy Moore or an extremist handpicked by Mitch McConnell to be part of his legislative graveyard team. Let’s get to work so we can get things done!”
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Conference committee will have until February 15 to reach agreement to avoid another shutdown
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Congressional leaders have named eight Southerners to a 17-member conference committee that will try to come up with a border security compromise to avoid another government shutdown on February 15.
Six Republicans and two Democrats from the South were named to the joint House-Senate panel, which was set up to hash out an agreement after legislation to reopen the government passed on January 26.
The conference committee has seven members from the Senate (four Republicans and three Democrats) and 10 members from the House (six Democrats and four Republicans.)
All of the Southern members on the conference committee serve on either the House or Senate appropriations committee, which controls federal spending.
Shelby is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Granger is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, which is controlled by Democrats.
President Donald Trump and congressional leaders agreed to reopen the government until February 15 in order to come up with a compromise on funding for border security.
Trump has asked for $5.7 billion to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, an idea which Democratic leaders oppose.
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Ill health forces Mississippi’s senior senator from office after nearly 46 years on Capitol Hill
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senator Thad Cochran will resign from the Senate effective April 1 for health reasons, triggering a special election that will put both of Mississippi’s Senate seats up for grabs this November.
“I regret my health has become an ongoing challenge,” Cochran said in a March 5 statement announcing his departure. “My hope is by making this announcement now, a smooth transition can be ensured so (the people of Mississippi’s) voice will continue to be heard in Washington, D.C.”
Governor Phil Bryant will appoint a temporary replacement for Cochran until the remaining two years of his term can be filled by a special election in November. Politico reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging Bryant to appoint himself to the vacancy, which would give him an advantage in pursuing the seat permanently in November.
Cochran’s decision comes just four days after the filing deadline closed for the state’s June primary. After months of speculation that Cochran’s seat could come open, Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel–who fought a bruising primary against Cochran in 2014–committed to making a primary run instead against Cochran’s Senate seatmate, Roger Wicker.
McDaniel could drop out of the race against Wicker and run in the special election for Cochran’s seat, although those calculations would be affected by Bryant’s decision on who will replace Cochran.
After Cochran’s announcement, McDaniel issued a statement saying he would “monitor developments” and “all options remain on the table as we determine the best way to ensure that Mississippi elects conservatives to the United States Senate.”
Cochran, 80, chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, was hospitalized last fall for a urinary tract infection that kept him away from the Capitol for several weeks, raising questions about ability to continue in office.
While he remained chair of the committee, the No. 2 Republican on the panel, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, has filled in for Cochran during his frequent absences.
Cochran has served in Congress for nearly 46 years. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1972 and the Senate in 1978, becoming the first Republican elected statewide in Mississippi since Reconstruction.
His toughest race came in 2014, when McDaniel narrowly beat him in the first round of voting in the GOP primary to force a runoff. However, the Republican establishment roared back in favor of the veteran senator, who took the runoff by 7,700 votes.
McDaniel unsuccessfully challenged the result, alleging that the Cochran campaign had induced Democrats to vote illegally in the Republican primary. Under state law, Democratic voters were free to vote in the runoff if they had not voted during the first round in the Democratic primary, a tactic Cochran’s campaign openly encouraged.
The contentious 2014 campaign left bruised feelings in the Magnolia State, particularly after McDaniel supporter Clayton Kelly sneaked into a nursing home to photograph Cochran’s wife, who was suffering from dementia, in order to collect material for a political video alleging that Cochran was involved in an extramarital affair. McDaniel denied any involvement in the scheme.
Kelly later went to prison, and Rose Cochran died in December 2014. Senator Cochran married Kay Webber, a longtime staffer in his Washington office, in 2015.
Report: Democrat Doug Jones outspending Republican Roy Moore 7-to-1 on TV
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — Just two weeks before a special election to pick Alabama’s next U.S. Senator, Lee Busby, a retired Marine Corps colonel and one-time aide to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, has launched a last-minute write-in bid for the seat as an independent.
In another development in the race, Democrat Doug Jones’s campaign has outspent embattled Republican nominee Roy Moore by a whopping 7-to-1 margin on television ads in his quest to become the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama in 25 years, according to a report in Politico.
Busby told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that he got into the race because he was dissatisfied with choosing between Moore, who has been accused of sexually pursuing teenage girls, and Jones, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham making his first bid for political office.
“I felt like there was a lot of people in Alabama who felt like me,” Busby told the network. “The more I talked to [people], the more sense I got that there was this huge swath in the middle that feels like they’re not represented.”
Since announcing his write-in candidacy on November 27, Busby said he has been the target of a deluge of criticism on social media from Moore supporters angered by his candidacy.
“I’m either a Democratic agent or a lackey of [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell,” he said.
Busby told MSNBC that he is a registered Republican but did not support Moore during the GOP primary, well before the sexual pursuit allegations surfaced.
“I don’t know Roy Moore. I’ve never met him. But there’s a sense of self-righteousness that comes out of that campaign that bothered me, and I don’t think it represents the majority of Alabama voters,” he said.
Busby, who lives in Tuscaloosa, served 31 years in the Marine Corps and Marine Reserve, reaching the rank of colonel. After leaving the military, he has focused on his work as a sculptor, creating memorial busts of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While in the military, Busby served as vice chief of staff to Kelly, the retired Marine general who is now Trump’s chief of staff.
Since allegations against Moore became public on November 9, Trump has refused to condemn him, instead offering pointed criticism of Jones on Twitter. However, the president has so far stopped short of traveling to Alabama to campaign with his party’s nominee.
By contrast, McConnell and most of the Republicans in the Senate have called on Moore to exit the race, even though the deadline had passed to remove his name from the ballot.
Five women have come forward to say that Moore, now 70, made advances toward them when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers. One of the women, Leigh Corfman, said Moore initiated sexual contact with her back in 1979, when she was just 14.
Moore has denied the allegations and resisted pressure from Republicans to drop out of the race.
The most recent public polls, taken before Busby’s entry, have shown the race between Jones and Moore within the margin of error, which means that the polls can’t offer a conclusion as to which man is ahead. The competitiveness of the race is shocking sight in Alabama, where Republican Richard Shelby won by 28 points in 2016 and Democrats didn’t even run anybody against Republican Jeff Sessions in 2014.
Just as shocking is the disparity on the TV airwaves, with Jones airing more than 10,000 ads since the primary, compared to just 1,000 for Moore, according to figures compiled by Advertising Analytics and reported by Politico.
National Democrats had been wary of putting resources into the long-shot Alabama race, but money began pouring into Jones’s campaign after Moore won the GOP primary and the allegations against him surfaced.
The special election to fill the Senate seat is December 12.
The Alabama seat became vacant in February, when Sessions resigned to become U.S. attorney general. Republican Luther Strange was appointed to fill the seat but failed to hold it when Moore challenged him in the GOP primary to pick a nominee for a special election to elect a permanent replacement.
Moore was a controversial figure even before the allegations about his alleged sexual pursuit of teenage girls surfaced. He was twice elected as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and removed both times, first for defying a federal judge’s order to remove a 10 Commandments display at the state judicial building in Montgomery and then for encouraging local officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling mandating marriage equality.
In 2006 and 2010, he ran poorly in GOP primaries for governor. But in the special election, he was able to parlay unhappiness with the Republican establishment in Washington into a win over Strange, who was backed by Trump and McConnell.
Watch Busby’s full interview with MSNBC: