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.
“Between being a Scout master and working with young kids and being a father of a disabled child, I got patience,” Sessions said. “But not for bullshit. You come up here and you’re a professional and you have ideas, I’m ready to look at that. You come up here, you want to run the committee or shake us up or come at us, I don’t allow that.”
In the 113th Congress, Sessions has allowed 216 Democrat-sponsored amendments for debate on the floor, 92 bipartisan amendments and 237 Republican amendments. The statistics might back up Sessions’ insistence that the die is not completely cast before a Rules hearing; debate “really does matter” in deciding which amendments to accept, he said.
But his job is to implement leadership’s vision, even if he isn’t always wild about the strategy. That was particularly true during the government shutdown in October.
“I am for us effectively knowing where victory is and what’s possible,” he said. “I think we should not take a hostage just to take a hostage.”
Once leadership decided to go down the shutdown road, however, the party loyalist was all in. It meant he had to take a pummeling from Democrats over the GOP’s manipulation of the rules to prevent a vote on a “clean” continuing resolution and he had to be the bearer of bad news.
The night before a deal was reached to reopen government, leadership huddled in the speaker’s office to consider one last offer to the Senate.
But they didn’t have the votes, and when the meeting ended, all but one opted to exit through the back door, rather than face the waiting throng of reporters. Sessions came out the front door.
“They all have different roles,” he said of his colleagues, but for him, “walking out the back door is not appropriate.”
He said the Republican additions to this year’s roster — senior appropriator Tom Cole of Oklahoma, former Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and the always-opinionated Michael C. Burgess of Texas — were about assembling a “fantasy team” of “real experts.”
Cole called Sessions “the ultimate traffic cop in Congress” who has made the panel “more deliberative, not just a process committee, but a substance committee.”
And though Sessions was a student of Dreier’s — “I don’t think anyone respects David Dreier as much as Pete Sessions does,” Cole said — the Oklahoma Republican speculated that Sessions wanted to “mitigate those frustrations” he saw when he was in the minority, even if, “by nature, the outcome is pretty much dictated.”
“There is an overwhelming courtesy in the way that Pete has gone about his business,” Cole said.
The top Democrat on Rules, former Chairwoman Louise M. Slaughter of New York, called Sessions “a cordial colleague” in spite of “our many differences on the issues,” in a statement.
Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, another senior Democrat on the panel, said Sessions has “gone out of his way to be accommodating” and “make sure those of us in the minority party get a chance to be heard.”
“The problem isn’t with him, it’s with leadership,” McGovern added. “The Rules Committee is the speaker’s committee,” and Sessions is “a loyal soldier to the speaker of the House.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.