For the first time in his 19-year Senate career, Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions is mulling an endorsement of a GOP primary candidate, saying the party hasn’t “defended [the American people] sufficiently on the world stage.”
Roll Call conducted a lengthy interview with Sessions, focusing on his staunch support for American interests regarding trade deals and immigration policy. He shied away from naming current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump as “the right person,” but lauded him for making these two crucial issues part of the national conversation.
The headline the paper chose uses loaded language: “Sessions Feels Vindicated by Trump’s Nativist Surge.” It implies Sessions is acting out of hostility and anger, rather than grave concern for America and its posterity. Sessions himself took a more reserved and optimistic tome.
“A few people might be interested in how I would evaluate the candidates,” Sessions said. “I’m not going to go out and just jump out and start advocating for somebody that I’m not really sure represents the best for America.”
The GOP could greatly broaden its appeal by confessing it hasn’t always taken the side of the middle class, Sessions told Roll Call. The party would benefit from a promise to ensure a prosperous future and stable society. It’s as welcome a message to grassroots Republicans as it is to Democratic voters.
“People like confession. We need to say, ‘We’ve been too pure in this trade business,” he said. “You are right, American people — we have not defended you sufficiently on the world stage in these trade agreements and we’re going to negotiate tougher and we’re going to defend our interests more effectively.
“‘And yes, you’re right. You’ve been asking for 30 years to end this lawlessness. We don’t have enough jobs for our own people. We’re not going to keep bringing in millions of people, legal and illegal, until you have a better chance to get your children, your family, a job. And I care about you, and I don’t care what Wall Street money says.’ If we’ll say that, then I think there’s a real sense of defection from the Democratic vote,” he added.
Sessions says too many of his colleagues don’t have a sense for what working-class families are going through after years of stagnant wages.
“We have too many people that are in denial. They spend too much time in fundraisers with rich people and they don’t deeply understand the pain of middle-class, salaried people,” Sessions explains.
The GOP establishment has tried to turn support for American interests into a pathology, but Sessions also brushed off the label of “nativist.”
“What’s wrong with that?” he asked. “What’s wrong with putting America first? As a lawyer, we represent the people who voted for us. That’s who our duty is owed to. To them. And we should be doing what’s in their best interest.”
“And this idea of somebody sitting in Wall Street, a million-plus dollars a year in income, saying this is all right to bring in an unlimited number of people to cause trouble and you know, financial difficulties for our schools and our hospitals?” he continued. “They don’t live with that. It’s easy for them to say that. Who are these people? Who’s speaking for the average person?”
Sessions has met with Trump and praised his immigration platform, and appeared at a 20,000-strong rally with him in his Alabama hometown, even briefly donning a “Make America Great Again” hat. While it’s too early to tell who Sessions could endorse — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Wisconsin Gov Scott Walker have followed Trump’s lead in calling for an end to automatic birthright citizenship — he has pointed to several specifics on immigration.
Before meeting with Trump earlier in September, Sessions issued a statement laying out America’s shocking trade deficits:
Wages are lower today than in 1973. We accumulated $442 billion in trade deficits this year alone. The Census bureau projects that new immigration into the U.S. will break all known records. Countless Americans, including millions of African-American and Hispanic workers, are hurting.
The record admission of new foreign workers, combined with a weak trade policy that sends our jobs overseas, have decimated middle class incomes. But America’s global elites continue to push trade and immigration policies that further reduce wages, increase joblessness and destabilize our communities.
Mr. Trump has outlined trade and immigration policies that serve the national interest, not the special interests. Anyone who wants to sit in the Oval Office must promote trade and immigration plan that improve jobs and wages for Americans.
Also, Sessions applauded Trump’s plan to lift inner city communities out of crushing poverty by letting wages rise and handing more power to workers:
This is exactly the plan America needs. Not only would the plan outlined in this paper work, but more quickly than many realize. Most importantly, this plan reestablishes the principle that American’s immigration laws should serve the interests of its own citizens.
For too long, ‘immigration reform’ plans in Washington have served the special interests at the expense of working Americans. By contrast, this plan puts the needs of working Americans foremost, and develops an effective strategy for improving their wages and job prospects. Crucially, this plan includes an emphasis on lifting struggling minority communities, including our immigrant communities, out of poverty — by preventing corporations from bringing in new workers from overseas to replace them and drive down wages.
When the labor market is oversupplied, it tilts the balance of power away form workers and towards employers. In combination with a smart, fair trade policy this proposal would reinvigorate the middle class. Polling shows this plan will appeal broadly to all segments of the electorate: prioritizing the just demands of loyal, everyday Americans who have been shunned by a governing elite.
Democrats panicked after Trump released his immigration platform, with good reason. Sessions told Roll Call their party has failed its base.
“The people making $50,000 and below, a group Romney was killed in, are anxious for a leader who cares about them, who has classic Republican social policies. They are not happy with Democrats and the statist eight years we’ll have under Obama,” he said.
Email Katie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @k_mcq.