The Jeff Sessions I met
On the eve of Sen. Jeff Sessions's nomination to be attorney general of the U.S., Hugh McInnish wrote an interesting and positive column for this site about the Jeff Sessions he knows. I cannot say I know Jeff Sessions to that extent, but I have met with him twice, and I found him to be a bright, congenial person. With the full Senate vote on Jeff Sessions's confirmation looming, I thought the readers here might be interested in a couple of other things I observed about the Jeff Sessions I met.
As I am an Alabama resident, Jeff Sessions is my senator. I also happened to be an economics professor. One time a few years ago, Sen. Sessions, whom I had then never previously met, was to be in Mobile and was interested in the issue of whether or not the Chinese were trying to gain an advantage in trade with the U.S. by manipulating the exchange rate of their currency with the U.S. dollar. Sen. Sessions wanted to discuss this issue, and he was put in contact with me. We agreed to meet at a local restaurant to discuss Chinese exchange rates over dinner.
I showed up at the restaurant at the appointed hour. The first thing I noticed was that the senator had made us just a regular reservation at the restaurant, pulling no rank. I arrived first, and the restaurant staff seated me at a table that anyone else would have gotten. It was a table I had been seated at before when eating there with my family. The staff at the restaurant never seemed to know that entire evening that the Jeff Sessions I was meeting for dinner and who made the reservation was different from any other diner.
Sen. Sessions arrived shortly after me and was shown to the table, and he introduced himself to me. We began our dinner and a wide-ranging discussion on Chinese exchange rates and other topics. I was really impressed that Sen. Sessions was so unpretentious, the antithesis of "the over-entouraged [U.S.] political class" that essayist Mark Steyn writes about. At the end of our long conversation, Sen. Sessions and I parted ways at the door and went to our cars. As far as I could tell, Sen. Sessions was by himself and had driven himself to the restaurant with no entourage at all.
Some months later, I happened to be at an economics conference in Washington, D.C. and contacted Sen. Sessions to go to lunch and continue our discussion, which he agreed to do. As I try not to make a pest of myself with famous people, this was my second and last meeting with him. Again, I just showed up at his office at the appointed time, and we walked to a local restaurant near Capitol Hill and had lunch, continuing our discussion of Chinese exchange rates and other topics from our prior meeting.
The second thing I noticed about Sen. Sessions was that he knew I was an economist and he was not surprised that as an economist, my views about the gains from trade and government restrictions on trade or exchange rates would be that the government could not do much to improve things and could do much to harm things. That is, Sen. Sessions knew he was seeking information from someone who would not necessarily hold the views he had in the area of trade, yet he wanted to talk to someone possibly holding differing views. I think this, too, speaks well of Sen. Sessions. Even after rising to such a high position, he seeks out differing views on matters before he makes up his mind.
In my discussions with Sen. Sessions, I could see that he is, as his background as a prosecutor suggests, a rule of law man. That can be great if you want immigration law enforced. That might be less great if you like the moves of states to do away with some drug prohibitions before the U.S. Congress does. Still, if you think the U.S. would be well served by an attorney general who is a modest person, one who is not caught up in the trappings of office, one who will seek to understand differing views, you should be encouraged by this nomination and hope for a positive confirmation vote, as I do.