Jeff Sessions, who is now running for his old U.S. Senate seat, said he is running for the national interests and President Trump's agenda, in spite of Trump's criticism of Sessions' time as attorney general.
Sessions came to Cracker Barrel in Jasper on Wednesday morning to speak to Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed over breakfast, as well as hold a brief interview with the Daily Mountain Eagle. He spoke at a Republican function in Fayette the night before.
Sessions announced last month he was seeking his old seat, resulting in Secretary of State John Merrill leaving the race. Democrat Doug Jones won the seat in 2017 over former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore.
Jones is seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbent senators, according to The Hill. The Cook Political Report rates the current race as a toss-up.
The Mobile Republican, who held the Senate seat for 20 years before becoming Trump's attorney general in 2017, was asked why he was running in the wake of criticism from Trump over Sessions' recusal in the Mueller investigation.
"The gist of my thinking is that I can make a positive difference," Sessions said. "I was advocating for the main Trump agenda items before he announced." Those include stands on trade, where he thought China was cheating the U.S. He also felt Congress had not done enough on illegal immigration at the border..
"We had way too much illegality in immigration that had to be fixed and that threatened our very sovereignty as a nation," he said. "If you can't defend your borders, something's wrong."
He also came to believe the nation needed to "be more careful about these wars around the world," in reflection of lives we've placed at risk and lost. He had questions on whether it has helped the U.S. or the countries intended to help.
"In many cases, it seemed both suffered rather than getting better," Sessions said.
Eventually, he said Trump became a candidate and picked up the issues, challenging conventional wisdom. Sessions became the first major supporters in the Senate.
"I thought he would deliver on his promises, although nobody knew," he said. "And he has delivered on his promises. So I've tried not to be personal about it."
He turned briefly to Trump's comments about him.
Sessions said, "I'm sorry that he got upset with me. I understand his thinking. I think it is a question of serving the national interest, advancing the things I believe in and I think we'll have a special opportunity with his re-election, which I expect to occur, to get some things done, like fixing the border, like finishing strong trade policies against China and some of these other cheating nations.
"I believe I can step in and hit the ground running and be able to make a contribution," he said, noting he has regularly appeared on national news programs. Sessions said in the Senate he always studied issues carefully and make a careful decision. He said he can document his stands and that he really wants to accomplish his stands, such as on immigration.
"I want to see this happen. It's not just, 'What does it take to get elected? You should be against China.' This is something I was part of," he said.
Sessions said the most important issue was maintaining the economy "at this booming level the best we can," saying it hasn't been at this healthy level in 50 years. He said Trump deserves credit for the positive numbers, noting the president's tax cut plan, which he said put more money into the economy.
He also said Trump defended the production of more American energy and defended the coal energy, saying the production of some forms of coal would possibly have been ended altogether without Trump's actions.
Trump has also challenged bad regulations, he said.
"There are way too many regulations costing businesses large amounts of money, delaying their expansions, and producing no benefit," Sessions said. While some are good, others have become out-of-date and irrelevant over time, costing time and creating delays.
Sessions noted he had talks with the president over wages.
"I was very concerned and travel with the president - we talked about this - that average persons' wages, adjusted for inflation, had not gone up for 20 years. In the last two years, wages increased a little more than inflation, for a change," he said. "That's what we want to see happen. If we don't listen to the average person, and understand that half of American makes less than $55,000 a year, and many make a lot less than that, and they struggle to buy tires for their cars, to send their kids to school or have a vacation - if we don't understand that, somebody in Washington is not paying attention. And some don't understand it."
Sessions explained Trump's election success, saying working America felt like no one was listening to them or cared about them. "If they complained, they were put down as deplorables or whatever," he said.
"So I think politically, the president needs to continue to deliver for the working Americans and continue to talk about it, and the Republican leadership needs to get more aggressive in supporting it and supporting him," he said.
He said there is opportunity for the president to be successful, which Sessions wants.
"I ask people to support him. I don't want him to fail. The things I've fought for, he's still advancing faithfully like he promised. A lot of people said, 'He's not going to do what he promised,'" Sessions said. "But he has done what he promised."
Sessions said Trump has also appointed great judges across the nation, "reaffirming the classical principles of how a judge should rule under the Constitution, under the laws, not above them. You don't get to make them and say what they want them to say."
He said a number of members of Congress, who normally are not involved in primaries, have been supportive and contributed to him. He pointed out U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Sessions served on for 20 years.
"He had a fundraiser for me, and he's one of my best friends," Sessions said, and then began to smile. "Sen. John McCain used to chair that committee. He could be quirky some days, but we got along."
Asked about impeaching the president, he said, "I do not believe that this is close to an impeachment situation. This is an abuse of the impeachment power. This vague thing of some sort of abuse of power is way too vaugue. They throw out all these possible crimes and when it gets down to it, they can't even agree what crime it is.
"(Robert) Mueller did this prolonged, extensive investigation of collusion charges that went on for months, and it was going to lead to the president being impeached and removed from office, and he did not find that. He found just the opposite.
"I really think the Democrats have made a big mistake. If we try to start impeachment every time that you have a hostile personality challenge between the Congress and the president, we would have weakened the constitutional order. The Constitution says impeachment should be for treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors. That means something. That doesn't mean, 'I don't like what you did.' I think that is an abuse of power. You need to be able to explicitly say what it is."
He said many "good Republicans" would vote for impeachment if they thought it was justified, but he doesn't see any of them voting for impeachment in the House or conviction in the Senate, and that he believes "a number of Democrats" will vote against the charges.
"The best thing for the country would be for them to pull back," he said.