House Rules Chairman Sessions, pictured here in his Rules Committee office, took the gavel of the powerful panel at the beginning of the 113th Congress, taking over for retired Rep. David Dreier.
As a two-term chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Pete Sessions has never been known for reaching across the aisle.
In the year since relinquishing that gig and taking the gavel of the Rules Committee, the Texas Republican is still focused on politics and elections — and scoring points for the GOP.
And right now, he’s got one target in his sights.
“Everything we do in this body should be about messaging to win back the Senate,” he said. “That’s it. If you don’t want Benghazis to happen or you want an investigation for Benghazi, if you want an investigation on the IRS as opposed to the excuses that [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid is all about, if you do not like what’s happening at the [National Security Agency], then you gain the Senate.”
Sessions knows that he’s a target himself. He understands that “every room I walk into, and every elevator I go into, there are people there that know who ramrodded the effort to replace Nancy Pelosi” as speaker, he said. “I get that.”
But Sessions doesn’t want to be known as just a partisan attack dog. He says he’s trying to be more welcoming to the other party and opposing views.
“A lot of people believed I would come in and probably ramrod things through the committee,” Sessions said in an interview with CQ Roll Call last week. “But, in fact, even at the NRCC, I tried to involve as many members as I could. It was not a one-man project.”
He points to his style at Rules Committee meetings as an example, which are longer and less expedient than those of his predecessor, former Rep. David Dreier of California.
“I am more open to us allowing members of Congress to come to the Rules Committee where they will be welcomed, where their ideas will be thought of and understood,” he said.
Allowing amendments can be a tricky business. More amendments and more openness can lead to bills going down in flames on the House floor. Witness the farm bill.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Sessions said.
He is at his warmest when averring to his love for the Boy Scouts of America and proudest when discussing his two Eagle Scout sons, one of whom has Down syndrome. Sessions is also co-chairman of the Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus.
But behind that congeniality and family pride, Sessions maintains a sharp edge.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.