As of Wednesday afternoon, there was only one member officially in the race to be the next majority leader: Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas.
Sessions sat down with CQ Roll Call in his Rules Committee office Wednesday afternoon for about a half hour to discuss the race and his desire to be majority leader — and it’s clear that his campaign operation is in full swing.
Sessions was up past 2 a.m. texting members, asking for their support — he already has a whip team — and members were calling during the interview to discuss the race.
“Our conference wants and needs to be successful,” Sessions said. “This is a period of time that we have not chosen, it happened to us, and we are substantially seen in favorable terms against the Democrats, and we need to continue listening to the American people and responding accordingly to win their confidence.”
But Sessions’s campaign may be short-lived, if another Texan like Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling gets in the mix. The Texas Republicans, who meet every Thursday for lunch, were holding a special meeting Wednesday night to discuss the race.
“Certainly,” Sessions said of Hensarling, “it’s not in our best interest to run against each other.”
Still, Sessions said, “As a result of my work last night, I’ve received a gracious number of people that I thought were available and, in fact, have come to my side.” “The bottom line,” he continued, “is that if I did not believe I stood a good chance, I certainly wouldn’t be meeting with you today.”
Sessions seems to be making immigration and border security a main thrust of his candidacy. He stressed the need to secure the border, and he seemed opposed to any sort of comprehensive immigration overhaul.
Sessions is also pitching himself as a fiscal conservative, saying a big idea of his would be to block grant Medicaid back to the states.
Still, he doesn’t want to let Democrats own any one issue. Case in point: The unemployment extension. It was Sessions back in February saying he was open to working with Democrats on the issue to find a way forward on the issue.
On Wednesday, he admitted that was more about not letting the Democrats “own” an issue.
But the big selling point Sessions is trying to stress with his conference is his team mentality. Sessions led the National Republican Campaign Committee for four years, steering the group during its big 2010 gains, and he has tried to defer to others on the Rules Committee to make it a more open place.
“If there’s one thing I stand for,” Sessions said, “it’s everybody in this conference feeling like they’re not only part of the team, but they can accomplish things themselves.”
“The value of how I look at teams and players and people, I think is different,” he continued. “I actually do bring in and empower people to achieve and get things done.”
“At the NRCC, we had a bunch of people that quote ‘worked for me.’ I would spend time with them, and they would go spend time with their teams, and I would sell them on what they were trying to accomplish, and what they were trying to do, and I expected them to go achieve that,” said Sessions, a former high school football quarterback.
Asked if he thought he could beat Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy in a head-to-head race, Sessions said Republicans had seen that he puts together plans that are designed for victory.
“And I stayed after it, with my shoulder to the plow, until I got it done.”
Sessions explained that his strategy was to appeal to conservatives, while also appealing to some establishment Republicans as a member of the pro-business GOP.
“I think conservatives will come to me,” Sessions said, “but I’ve reached out to a good number of people who’ve said, ‘I’m looking at the guy who helped me get here and understands how I’m going to stay here.’ ”
Sessions looks to point out his success at the NRCC, and he seems to be looking to bank on the relationships he built with members when they were just candidates. As Sessions knows, about half the GOP conference was elected in the last two terms, when he was the head of the NRCC.
As for differences with Cantor, the Texas Republican made it clear he wasn’t going to bash the Virginia Republican. Sessions instead heaped on the praise, and he indicated that Cantor’s schedule, which has the House in session for just more than 100 days a year so members can spend time in their districts, would continue if he were majority leader.
On the topic of how this affects Speaker John A. Boehner, Sessions didn’t really seem to know.
Asked if he thought Boehner would try to stick around for another term as speaker, Sessions said, “I don’t think John Boehner has decided yet.” He also made it clear that his own personal focus was the majority leader spot, not the speaker’s gavel.
“I am running for majority leader because I’d like to be majority leader,” Sessions said.
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