Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R)

Alabama

N/A

sessions.senate.gov

Biography

Elected: 1996, term expires 2020, 4th term.

Born: December 24, 1946, Hybart

Home: Mobile

Education: Huntingdon Col., B.A. 1969, U. of AL, J.D. 1973

Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1973–75, 1977–81, 1993–94; Asst. U.S. atty., 1975–77; U.S. atty., 1981–93.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Methodist

Family: married (Mary) , 3 children

Despite his courtly manner, Republican Jeff Sessions, Alabama’s junior senator since 1997, is known as a conservative bulldog. He is an outspoken critic of illegal immigration whom the conservative National Review dubbed "amnesty's worst enemy." He was given the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee's immigration panel in 2015.

Sessions grew up in the state’s Black Belt, the son of a country store owner, and recalls seeing many farm families go bankrupt. “They got crushed by debt, and the lesson was clear: You simply cannot live above your means or it will catch up to you,” he told the Mobile Press-Register in 2012. He graduated from Huntingdon College and the University of Alabama Law School, then practiced law in a small town near the Tennessee Valley and later in Mobile. He was appointed U.S. attorney in Mobile in 1981, at age 35, and became known as a tough, aggressive prosecutor over the next dozen years. In 1985, he was nominated for a federal judgeship but was attacked by liberals for “gross insensitivity” in racial matters when he prosecuted vote fraud cases. With Alabama’s Democratic Sen. Howell Heflin voting against him in the Judiciary Committee, his nomination never went to the Senate floor.

In 1994, Sessions challenged state Attorney General Jimmy Evans, a Democrat who had successfully prosecuted Republican Gov. Guy Hunt the year before, and won 57%-43%. In March 1995, when Heflin announced his retirement, Sessions ran for his seat. In the contested GOP primary, Sessions relied on his base in southern Alabama, territory that not so long ago cast almost no Republican primary votes. Long-distance carrier executive Sid McDonald spent more than $1 million on his campaign. From Birmingham north, the primary was a close race: McDonald led 30%-29%. But in the rest of the state, Sessions led 48%-12%, for a 38%-22% statewide victory. In the runoff, McDonald extended his lead north from Birmingham, 54%-46%. But almost half the total votes were cast farther south, and there Sessions led 73%-27%, for a 59%-41% win.

The Democratic nominee, trial lawyer and state Sen. Roger Bedford, was financed by trial lawyers and endorsed by key public employee unions and African-American organizations—the heart of today’s Alabama Democratic Party. In the general election, Bedford was competitive in fundraising and was the better campaigner. He opposed abortion rights, gun control, and gays in the military. Sessions avoided debates and attacked his opponent as a “Ted Kennedy” Democrat, a reference to the Massachusetts liberal senator that suggested Bedford was too far to the left for Alabama. Sessions won 52%-45%, running best in the suburban counties around Alabama’s cities. Bedford carried the Black Belt and other rural counties.

Sessions has a very conservative voting record in the Senate. On the Budget Committee, where he was the ranking Republican, he has assailed President Barack Obama for being unwilling to seriously address the growing national debt. “For the president to say his plan will pay down the debt is one of the greatest financial misrepresentations ever made to the American people,” he said on the Republicans’ weekly radio address in September 2012. He also complained about the unwillingness of his Democratic counterparts on the committee to pass a budget plan and said GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s controversial House-passed budget “lays the foundation for an American renaissance.” He often travels around Alabama giving detailed presentations, complete with charts, about the mounting debt, using much the same manner as he did in his days as a prosecutor, laying out the facts and asking people to judge.

He teamed with Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill in 2010 in adding to a measure to raise the federal debt limit an amendment to impose multi-year caps on discretionary spending. The pair offered the measure several times until it fell just one vote short of the 60 required to pass. In 2012, Sessions proposed four amendments to the farm bill that would tighten food stamp eligibility and end payments to states that increase the size of their rolls. Senate Democrats and a handful of GOP moderates rejected his proposals.

When Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., struck a deal with her House counterpart, Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, on a bipartisan budget in December 2013, Sessions was among those refusing to endorse it. He said he opposed raising discretionary spending above the level agreed to in the 10-year Budget Control Act period, and was against using trust-fund savings to raise that spending. He also complained: "Much of the spending increase in this deal has been justified by increased fees and new revenue. In other words: it’s a fee increase to fuel a spending increase—rather than reducing deficits."

Sessions became a leader against illegal immigration because, he said, no one else was willing to do so. In 2006, Sessions emerged as one of the most vocal opponents of the bipartisan immigration bill sponsored by Kennedy and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. He staunchly opposed a provision granting immigrants who had entered the country illegally a process to achieve citizenship. Over the next two years, as Congress debated changes in immigration policy, Sessions was a major roadblock to proposals easing immigration restrictions. In January 2007, he got the Senate to pass a bill banning federal contracts for 10 years to contractors who do not use the E-Verify system and hire illegal immigrants. Later in the year, he fought a bill that came to the floor that created a guest-worker program for illegal immigrants. He objected to a provision that 30% of immigrants be admitted on the basis of marketable skills, saying the percentage should be much higher, and he also said that immigrants with temporary legal status should be ineligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. In 2008, Sessions succeeded in passing an amendment to the budget to fund completion of a fence along the border with Mexico, to impose mandatory prison terms for illegal border crossers, and to deport illegal immigrants convicted of a felony. As calls grew four years later for Congress to act on immigration, he was unyielding on the need for tighter enforcement above all else: “Securing the border, and enforcing immigration law, is especially important in these difficult economic times. Illegal labor depresses wages and makes it more difficult for out-of-work Americans to find good-paying jobs,” he said.

Sessions bitterly but unsuccessfully opposed a 2013 bipartisan immigration reform bill, sending around policy proposals to undecided members and criticizing the news media for what he called its bias in favor of the proposal. And when an influx of Central American refugees on the U.S.-Mexico border led Congress to take up a bill trying to control the border in July 2014, Sessions again was among those leading the charge against it. He raised a point of order against the Senate's $3.6 billion border funding bill; Democrats fell 10 votes short of defeating it. He also persuaded members of Alabama's GOP House delegation to oppose that chamber's version because, he argued, it did not explicitly prevent Obama from using federal funds to enable further immigration through issuing work permits. He said such an action "would be an executive nullifcation of our laws."

Although Sessions has sponsored few major bills, he has had considerable success inserting into other legislation provisions he favors that set new federal policy. He typically targets bills that are likely to pass, an effective strategy. When the Medicare prescription drug bill came to the floor in 2003, Sessions added a provision for higher Medicare reimbursement for rural hospitals and threatened to vote against the final version of the bill unless it stayed in. It did, sending $738 million to Alabama, more than any other state except Texas and Florida. He also is unafraid to block legislation he dislikes. For several months in 2011, he held up passage of the Generalized System of Preferences, a trade agreement that opens the United States to up to 5,000 products from 127 developing countries, in an unsuccessful bid to make changes to protect a sleeping bag maker in his state from foreign competition.

Sessions has been a staunch defender of the oil, gas, and nuclear power industries. After the BP oil spill in 2010, he joined Louisiana Republican David Vitter in introducing a bill to raise the amount in damages for spill-related losses apart from cleanup costs. He rejected the idea that BP should lead the cleanup effort, saying the government should take on that role. Sessions is one of the Senate’s leading backers of more nuclear generated power and is one of his party’s climate change skeptics. When Sen. Barbara Boxer told him at an August 2012 hearing that 98% of scientists agree that humans are responsible for climate change, he scoffed, “I am offended by that ... I don’t believe that’s correct.”

On the Armed Services Committee, Sessions has been a big advocate for missile defense, and he has also focused on building up defense installations in Alabama. He supported the Bush administration on the Iraq war and was one of nine senators to vote against an amendment banning “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” of prisoners. Along with Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, he is a leading Senate critic of earmarks, the special provisions inserted into spending bills by lawmakers for their districts or states. Nevertheless, Sessions supports major projects with an impact on Alabama. He has criticized the Obama administration’s fight against terrorism, writing in a Washington Post op-ed in 2011, “This administration has lost sight of the reality that actionable intelligence — not criminal prosecution — is the only way our country can detect and foil the next al-Qaida plot.”

In his 2002 reelection bid, Sessions was opposed by Democrat Susan Parker, the state auditor and a fundraiser for colleges. She had the support of teachers’ unions, but Sessions outspent her 4-to-1 and won 59%-40%. Parker carried two Tennessee River counties in the north and 12 Black Belt counties in the center of the state, but Sessions won everything else. He raised early money in advance of the 2008 election, warding off possible challenges by prominent Democrats—Artur Davis, then a House member, and Ron Sparks, the state agriculture commissioner. His opponent was state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures of Mobile. Sessions raised $6.4 million and spent $3.8 million, while Figures spent $331,000. Sessions won 63%-37%. He easily won reelection in 2014.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-4124

(202) 224-3149

RSOB- Russell Senate Office Building Room 326
Washington, DC 20510-0104

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-4124

(202) 224-3149

RSOB- Russell Senate Office Building Room 326
Washington, DC 20510-0104

DISTRICT OFFICE

(205) 731-1500

(205) 731-0221

Robert S. Vance Federal Building Room 341
Birmingham, AL 35203-2171

DISTRICT OFFICE

(205) 731-1500

(205) 731-0221

Robert S. Vance Federal Building Room 341
Birmingham, AL 35203-2171

DISTRICT OFFICE

(251) 414-3083

(251) 414-5845

BB&T Centre Suite 2300-A
Mobile, AL 36608-1291

DISTRICT OFFICE

(251) 414-3083

(251) 414-5845

BB&T Centre Suite 2300-A
Mobile, AL 36608-1291

DISTRICT OFFICE

(334) 244-7017

(334) 244-7091

7550 Halcyon Summit Drive Suite 150
Montgomery, AL 36117-7012

DISTRICT OFFICE

(334) 244-7017

(334) 244-7091

7550 Halcyon Summit Drive Suite 150
Montgomery, AL 36117-7012

DISTRICT OFFICE

(256) 533-0979

(256) 533-0745

Regions Center Suite 802
Huntsville, AL 35801-4932

DISTRICT OFFICE

(256) 533-0979

(256) 533-0745

Regions Center Suite 802
Huntsville, AL 35801-4932

DISTRICT OFFICE

(334) 792-4924

(334) 792-4928

100 West Troy Street Suite 302
Dothan, AL 36303

DISTRICT OFFICE

(334) 792-4924

(334) 792-4928

100 West Troy Street Suite 302
Dothan, AL 36303

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Agriculture

Budget

Chris Jackson
Legislative Counsel

Commerce

Payne Griffin
Legislative Correspondent

Education

Mary Blanche Hankey
Legislative Counsel

Energy

Bradley Jaye
Deputy Press Secretary

Kerrie Carr
Legislative Correspondent

Environment

Bradley Jaye
Deputy Press Secretary

Kerrie Carr
Legislative Correspondent

Family

Mary Blanche Hankey
Legislative Counsel

Emily McBride
Legislative Correspondent

Foreign

Pete Landrum
Senior Defense Policy Advisor

George Elliott
Legislative Correspondent

Health

Mary Blanche Hankey
Legislative Counsel

Emily McBride
Legislative Correspondent

Conrad Pierce
Senior Health Care Policy Advisor

Homeland Security

Pete Landrum
Senior Defense Policy Advisor

George Elliott
Legislative Correspondent

Housing

Mary Blanche Hankey
Legislative Counsel

Human Rights

Mary Blanche Hankey
Legislative Counsel

Internet

Mary Blanche Hankey
Legislative Counsel

Labor

Mary Blanche Hankey
Legislative Counsel

Emily McBride
Legislative Correspondent

Medicare

Mary Blanche Hankey
Legislative Counsel

Conrad Pierce
Senior Health Care Policy Advisor

Military

Dave Sauve
Military Fellow

Pete Landrum
Senior Defense Policy Advisor

George Elliott
Legislative Correspondent

Public Works

Bradley Jaye
Deputy Press Secretary

Kerrie Carr
Legislative Correspondent

Small Business

Chris Jackson
Legislative Counsel

Social Security

Chris Jackson
Legislative Counsel

Tax

Chris Jackson
Legislative Counsel

Payne Griffin
Legislative Correspondent

Technology

Chris Jackson
Legislative Counsel

Telecommunications

Chris Jackson
Legislative Counsel

Trade

Chris Jackson
Legislative Counsel

Payne Griffin
Legislative Correspondent

Transportation

Bradley Jaye
Deputy Press Secretary

Kerrie Carr
Legislative Correspondent

Veterans

Dave Sauve
Military Fellow

Pete Landrum
Senior Defense Policy Advisor

George Elliott
Legislative Correspondent

Welfare

Mary Blanche Hankey
Legislative Counsel

Emily McBride
Legislative Correspondent

Women

Emily McBride
Legislative Correspondent

Election Results

2008 GENERAL
Jeff Sessions
Votes: 1,305,383
Percent: 63.36%
Vivian Figures
Votes: 752,391
Percent: 36.52%
2008 PRIMARY
Jeff Sessions
Votes: 199,690
Percent: 92.27%
Earl Gavin
Votes: 16,718
Percent: 7.73%
Prior Winning Percentages
2002 (59%), 1996 (52%)

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