Sessions eyes a move up ladder

The lawmaker who helped win the House back for the GOP last year is eyeing a high-ranking leadership post in the next Congress, according to Republican members. 

Rep. Pete Sessions’s (R-Texas) stock is on the rise, though it is unclear what his leadership role will be following the 2012 elections.

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Sessions headed the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 2010 cycle as the GOP picked up 63 seats, handing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) the gavel. Sources say Sessions mulled a run against Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for whip, but Boehner discouraged such a bid. McCarthy, who headed the NRCC’s recruitment efforts last cycle, ran unopposed.

Sessions agreed to serve a second term at the NRCC and he hasn’t been shy in predicting that Republicans will pick up more seats in 2012, which political analysts say is a possibility given President Obama’s low approval ratings.

Publicly, Sessions has said Republicans will increase their majority next year. Privately, the Texas Republican has told members he is aiming to win a dozen to 16 seats, according to a lawmaker who requested anonymity.

Democrats scoff at those assertions, countering they have a shot of winning the House back in 2012.

Assuming that doesn’t happen, Sessions’s future appears bright. He has a lot of friends in the freshman class, and will have more next year. Those relationships usually translate into votes during contested leadership contests.

High-ranking GOP lawmakers say that one way or another, Sessions will be a part of the leadership team in 2013.

Former NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) told The Hill, “I think he’s going to have multiple opportunities to remain in leadership, and I think people appreciate the job he’s done.” 

“He’s a valued member, well-liked — I’m sure that there will be a place for him,” Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said.

House Republican officials say Boehner could create a new leadership post for Sessions. 

Other options for Sessions include remaining as NRCC chairman, or being tapped as the next Rules panel chairman (which is a Speaker-appointed leadership post). 

Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) hasn’t said whether he intends to run for reelection in 2012. Many on Capitol Hill expect him to retire unless California’s new electoral map is overturned in court. If he does run with the current map, he would face a very challenging reelection race.

One lawmaker quipped that “nothing makes Sessions happier than defeating Democrats,” adding that Sessions may enjoy a third term as the NRCC chairman.

Sessions, who ranks behind Dreier on the Rules panel, is keeping his options open. 

Asked if he would consider a third term as head of the NRCC, Sessions responded, “Good God!” He then answered the question with a question, inquiring about who was floating that possibility. 

Sessions has not received much credit for the GOP’s historic run, attracting far less coverage than then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) got when he ran the Democrats’ campaign arm in 2006. Democrats won 30 seats that year, nabbing the majority. Unlike Emanuel, Sessions is not a regular on the Sunday talk shows and does not court the media’s attention. 

Some say Boehner was heavily involved in the NRCC in 2009 and 2010, downplaying Sessions’s clout. But others say Sessions’s efforts have largely gone underappreciated. 

The gains made under Sessions’s leadership were “historic. They ought to name the darn building after him,” one member told The Hill. 

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In some ways, lawmakers said, Sessions was a victim of his own success. 

“Because Pete reconfigured the NRCC to be more than just a chairman-run organization, it played to his net disadvantage in the end because he shared the success. It was a much more effective organization, but it also meant that he didn’t get all the credit he deserved — even though he’s the guy that did it all,” a lawmaker close to leadership said.

A lawmaker familiar with the situation told The Hill that Sessions is not likely to challenge McCarthy for whip or Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) for majority leader in 2013.

“Pete’s shrewd enough to know that you’re not going to beat either one of those two guys. They’ve done a good job,” the lawmaker said. 

Heading the election arm for a third time would mean a lot of work, especially if Republicans pick up seats in 2012, Cole noted. Usually, two terms is enough for one person, because the travel and fundraising demands are grueling.

Some veteran lawmakers point to the potential Rules Committee chairmanship as a good fit for Sessions.

Sessions is close with Boehner, having helped run the Ohio Republican’s successful bid for majority leader in 2006. 

Asked for the odds of Dreier’s not running for reelection, one GOP lawmaker responded, “Well, he doesn’t have a district.”

For now, Sessions is focusing on his goal of picking up 12 to 16 seats in the 2012 election. 

One lawmaker pointed out that even if the Republicans “held their own it would be historic; if you pick up one seat you are at a new historic level.”

The legislator, who is close to leadership, said, “Obviously, with taking the majority back last year, he has a lot of credibility.”

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Sessions’s colleague from Texas and the No. 4 House GOP leader, said he doesn’t know what Sessions’s future in leadership will entail. 

Hensarling acknowledged that Sessions had a “very tough job and he’s great at it.”


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