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

Biography

Elected: 1996, 10th term.

Born: March 22, 1955, Waco, TX

Home: Dallas, TX

Education: SW U., B.S. 1978

Professional Career: District mgr., SW Bell Telephone Co., 1978–93; V.P., public policy, Natl. Center for Policy Analysis, 1994–95.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Methodist

Family: Married (Karen Diebel) , 2 children ; 3 stepchildren

Pete Sessions, a Republican first elected in 1996, chairs the Rules Committee, a job that allows him to indulge his fondness for sparring with Democrats while upholding the leadership’s priorities. He previously was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, where he helped guide his party to majority control of the chamber in 2010.

Sessions grew up in Waco, graduated from Southwestern University, and then worked at Southwestern Bell in Dallas for 16 years. His father is William Sessions, a federal judge who served as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1987 to 1993. The vagaries of redistricting led Sessions to run for Congress in several different House districts. In 1991, he ran and finished sixth in the special election in the 3rd District, which then included much of North Dallas.

In 1993, he resigned from the phone company to run against Democratic Rep. John Bryant in the 5th District, which included much of the east side of Dallas and several rural counties to the south. The district had been drawn to reelect Bryant, a liberal Democrat. Sessions ran a vigorous campaign, making a two-day, 12-city tour of the district’s rural portions with a livestock trailer full of horse manure and a sign saying, “The Clinton health care plan stinks worse than this trailer.” Although he outspent Sessions 2-to-1 in 1994, Bryant won by just 50%-47%.

Two years later, Bryant ran, unsuccessfully, for the Senate. Sessions ran again for the House seat and won the primary. In the general election, he faced John Pouland, a former regional General Services Administration director. Sessions charged that Pouland was a big-government liberal and would abandon U.S. military bases overseas. Pouland criticized Republican cuts in Medicare. Sessions won 53%-47%.

Sessions’ voting record is among the most conservative in the House, though far-right blogs and websites occasionally question whether he is too much a part of the Washington establishment that they loathe. In 1999, he got a seat on Rules and has used it to forcefully articulate the Republican message. House Speaker John Boehner chose Sessions in November 2012 to succeed retiring Rules Chairman David Dreier of California over Washington’s Doc Hastings, a close Boehner ally. Earlier that year, news media accounts said some Republicans privately wondered whether Hastings might be better suited for the job, citing an incident in which Sessions falsely accused liberal Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., of drinking on the job after McGovern sought to offer an amendment to end the war in Afghanistan. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said in a floor speech that the accusation was a cause of “deep disappointment,” and Sessions apologized. But several leading House Republicans later reportedly urged Boehner to give the Rules position to Sessions.

Rules Committee meetings can often set off partisan sparks, as was the case in February 2015. Outspoken Democrat Alcee Hastings of Florida declared that Texas is "a crazy state" and that he would never want to live there. Though Sessions wasn't present at the hearing, he took the House floor to defend his state. "Texans are a proud people, and we've been a proud people since the days of the Alamo," Sessions said. "While some people may think that limited government and empowering families is 'crazy,' I disagree."

Sessions sponsored the constitutional amendment to require a two-thirds vote to raise taxes, was a leading advocate of the Republican proposal to stop the government from spending Social Security and Medicare surpluses, and called for scrapping the income tax code. He contended in October 2010 that the economic stimulus law actually put Americans out of work, and in February 2011, sponsored an unsuccessful amendment to chop $447 million from the budget of Amtrak, the national passenger railroad. When President Barack Obama laid out a liberal agenda in his 2013 State of the Union address, Sessions told The New York Times: “We’re now managing America’s demise, not America’s great future.” He is generally tightfisted but is apt to support government spending to help families with disabled children. Sessions has a son with Down syndrome.

Sessions sought to get on the House leadership track by running in 2006 for chairman of the NRCC, which raises money for Republicans and recruits challengers in House races. But he lost to Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma. After the 2008 election, Sessions succeeded in a second bid to head the NRCC. He had the strong support of Boehner—Sessions was among the few Texas Republicans who had backed Boehner for party leader against Roy Blunt of Missouri in 2006. Cole wanted a second term as NRCC chairman, but he carried the burden of the party’s 21-seat loss in the November 2008 election.

Sessions had a rocky start as chairman. Republicans lost several special elections in 2009, including one in upstate New York that had long been in GOP hands. He drew criticism for holding fundraisers at risqué venues that were at odds with the party’s family-values image. Sessions was lampooned by Democrats for his sometimes odd comments, including his statement that Obama was trying “to inflict damage and hardship on the free enterprise system, if not to kill it.” Sessions set a challenging goal of gaining the 40 seats the party needed to recapture the majority in 2010, and reorganized the committee to improve fundraising, communications, and candidate recruitment. He was not fully trusted with the job, as Boehner reportedly sat in on most major strategy meetings. Sessions let other NRCC figures, such as Oregon’s Greg Walden, take on major roles. Sessions was among the first members to join the Tea Party Caucus and, sharing its members’ anger at big spending, helped synchronize the Republican message to that theme. In the end, Republicans netted a gain of 63 seats in November 2010 to gain the majority.

Sessions considered using his accumulated political capital to run for majority whip, but decided against challenging California’s politically savvy Kevin McCarthy. Boehner gave Sessions added responsibilities as NRCC chairman to assist the new members coming into office in 2011. He was charged with advising first-termers on how to best coordinate their House work schedule with their reelection campaigns.

But when Majority Leader Eric Cantor unexpected lost his primary in June 2014, Sessions flirted with the idea of becoming part of the leadership again. He again decided not to challenge McCarthy, saying that running a successful campaign "would have created unnecessary and painful division within our party." Some conservatives reportedly then approached him about running for McCarthy's old whip job, but he declined.

In the 2012 election season, Sessions again got off to a shaky start, as Democrats picked up a seat in a heavily Republican Upstate New York district in a 2011 special election by focusing on new House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s controversial plans for Medicare. But also early on, Sessions was able to persuade two veteran GOP lawmakers, Virginia’s Frank Wolf and Florida’s Bill Young, to run for reelection. By August 2012, Sessions predicted that Republicans would pick up as many as seven new seats “because we are playing offense, not trying to protect what we have.” Democrats actually netted eight seats and outgained the GOP in the overall popular vote. But post-2010 census redistricting gave Republicans the edge, and they were able to remain in control.

Sessions has had his own history of eventful elections. In 2001, redistricting made the 5th District more Republican. But Sessions surprised state politicos by leaving the 5th to run in the newly created 32nd, which had no incumbent but included only 16% of his old district. He said he wanted to spend less time traveling around his district—the new 32nd was considerably more compact—and he thought it more compatible with his pro-business philosophy. Sessions had only token primary opposition and won the seat in 2002, 68%-30%.

In 2003, Republican Tom DeLay of Texas, the powerful majority leader in the U.S. House, persuaded the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature to draw the lines yet again. Although most Republicans were well-served by the new lines, Sessions wound up in a somewhat less Republican district and with a reelection challenge from 13-term Democratic incumbent Martin Frost, whose 24th District had been shorn of its most Democratic precincts in the DeLay remap. Frost chose to run in the 32nd because of its large, Democrat-friendly Jewish population in the Park Cities. Frost also felt Sessions was too conservative for the new district.

It turned into the most expensive House campaign of 2004. Sessions spent $4.5 million and Frost $4.8 million, and more still was spent by party committees and independent groups. Sessions criticized Frost for scheduling a fundraiser with Peter Yarrow, the Peter, Paul and Mary singer who had been convicted of “taking indecent liberties” with a 14-year-old girl in 1969. Frost cited Sessions’ vote against the establishment of new air-passenger security rules after the Sept. 11 attacks and ran an ad with images of the World Trade Center in flames and the message “Protect America. Say No to Pete Sessions.” Sessions won 54%-44%, capturing more than 80% of the vote in some Park Cities precincts; Frost failed to get the higher turnout he needed in Oak Cliff.

Sessions has not had great difficulty getting reelected since, though in 2014 he had to fend off a high-profile primary challenge from Katrina Pierson, a tea party activist who was a top volunteer on Republican Ted Cruz's 2012 Senate campaign. But she never raised serious money -- $144,000 to Sessions' $1.5 million -- and the congressman won with ease.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-2231

(202) 225-5878

RHOB- Rayburn House Office Building Room 2233
Washington, DC 20515-4332

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-2231

(202) 225-5878

RHOB- Rayburn House Office Building Room 2233
Washington, DC 20515-4332

DISTRICT OFFICE

(972) 392-0505

(972) 392-0615

Park Central VII Suite 1434
Dallas, TX 75251-1229

DISTRICT OFFICE

(972) 392-0505

(972) 392-0615

Park Central VII Suite 1434
Dallas, TX 75251-1229

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

(214) 373-8585

PO Box 823047
Dallas, TX 75382-3047

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

PO Box 823047
Dallas, TX 75382-3047

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Ryan Ethington
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Election Results

2012 GENERAL
Pete Sessions
Votes: 146,653
Percent: 58.28%
Katherine McGovern
Votes: 99,288
Percent: 39.46%
2012 PRIMARY
Pete Sessions
Unopposed
2010 GENERAL
Pete Sessions
Votes: 79,433
Percent: 62.61%
Grier Raggio
Votes: 44,258
Percent: 34.88%
2010 PRIMARY
Pete Sessions
Votes: 30,509
Percent: 83.71%
David Smith
Votes: 5,937
Percent: 16.29%
2008 GENERAL
Pete Sessions
Votes: 116,283
Percent: 57.25%
Eric Roberson
Votes: 82,406
Percent: 40.57%
2008 PRIMARY
Pete Sessions
Votes: 28,736
Percent: 100.0%
Prior Winning Percentages
2010 (63%), 2008 (57%), 2006 (56%), 2004 (54%), 2002 (68%), 2000 (54%), 1998 (56%), 1996 (53%)

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