The powerful National Rifle Association is jumping into the confirmation fight over Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, airing new TV ads promoting Sessions as an ally of police and friend of gun owners — and putting pressure on a handful of Democratic senators up for reelection in gun-friendly red states next year.
Sessions has all the support he needs to win confirmation from the Senate majority. But the NRA and other Sessions backers are putting increasing pressure on Senate Democrats, both to pad his margin and to lay down a marker for potential political support in 2018. The pro-gun group also plans to make Sessions’ confirmation a “key vote” in its legislative scorecard grading senators’ votes on guns.
“Jeff Sessions strongly supports our Second Amendment rights and will work tirelessly to defend them,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “He knows the difference between violent criminals and law-abiding citizens, and will support law enforcement’s efforts to get law-breakers off the streets.”
It’s the start of a policy sprint for the NRA, which spent the last eight years at war with former President Barack Obama. Now, in addition to installing Sessions at the Department of Justice, the group is focused on three big drives under President Donald Trump: getting a new Supreme Court justice who strongly supports the Second Amendment, passing new legislation making it easier to buy silencers and carry concealed weapons, and undoing executive actions put in place by the Obama administration.
“We had eight years worth of executive orders, executive actions and executive memorandums in addition to the rules and regulations promulgated by President Obama’s anti-gun administration that need to be undone, in addition to our legislative priorities,” NRA spokesperson Jennifer Baker said.
Some of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2018 — including Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) — have expressed skepticism about Sessions but have not committed to voting for or against him yet. All three senators have enjoyed relatively favorable (for Democrats) treatment in the past from the NRA, which spent more than $50 million during the 2016 election, mostly supporting Trump and Republican Senate candidates.
The NRA endorsed Donnelly for reelection to his old House seat in 2010, and he and Tester had A and A- ratings, respectively, from the NRA during their 2012 Senate runs. The NRA barely spent any money on independent-expenditure ads opposing them or Heitkamp that year, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The new TV ad, backed by a six-figure ad national buy on Fox News and digital outlets, says that Sessions is “an attorney general who supports police” amidst dwindling respect for law enforcement.
“We were raised to respect law enforcement. They put their lives on the line for us. But now, cops are attacked. Gunned down in cold blood,” a narrator says in the ad. “[Sessions] will get criminals off our streets. And protect the Second Amendment.”
Sessions has faced heavy criticism over past comments on race and handling of civil rights cases while he was attorney general and an assistant U.S. attorney in Alabama, but he is still expected to be confirmed by the Senate. Yet of the 10 Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 in states Trump won — a potential swing bloc in the Senate — only West Virginia’s Joe Manchin has announced that he’ll vote for Sessions.
Democratic lawmakers that have already said they plan to vote “no” on Sessions’ nomination and are up for reelection include Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Bob Casey (Pa.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.). Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) has indicated she might oppose Sessions but hasn’t officially declared her position yet.
Source: Politico, 1/25/27, by Maggie Severns and John Breshahan