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Immigration fight's front man
Sessions emerges as leader against bipartisan bill backed by Bush

By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — When President Bush's "grand bargain" on immigration fell apart, Jeff Sessions, the Republican senator from Mobile who is named after a pair of famous Confederates, was very proud.

"Hopefully our Senate has learned some things," Sessions crowed on the Senate floor on Thursday after his colleagues killed a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration law, bouncing on his toes and struggling to contain a grin.

Breaking uneasy union

For weeks, the son of a country-store owner from rural Alabama emerged as a front man on immigration, making it his mission to break the uneasy union that produced the bill. Usually a GOP role player, he derided the legislation as the "no illegal alien left behind" bill and its bipartisan sponsors as "masters of the universe."

"I've kind of enjoyed it, actually," Sessions said of the long days managing floor debate for the opposition. "I feel real comfortable that I have a good understanding of the issues and the deficiencies of this legislation, so I felt real good about it."

Sessions, 60, was first elected in 1996, and is still genuinely excited about holding a seat in the Senate. His rise to office came a decade after the chamber rejected his nomination by President Reagan to the federal bench, a circumstance that he acknowledges made his election that much sweeter for him.

Deep Southern roots

His deep Southern roots are evident in his full name: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, a family name handed down from his father and grandfather after the former president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and General P.G.T. Beauregard, who fired on Fort Sumter in 1861 to open the Civil War.

Among the most conservative senators, Sessions says his political philosophy was borne of a rural upbringing that included earning the rank of Eagle Scout in 1964. A former federal prosecutor, he was elected as Alabama attorney general in 1995.

Sessions insists he's not against immigrants, just those who break the law. And he said his passion for the issue is matched by his constituents in Alabama. Sessions doesn't yet have any serious competition for next year's election, but he has no doubt pleased many constituents with his hard-line performance on immigration.

A strong Bush ally, Sessions played down his differences with the White House on immigration. But he acknowledged a lengthy debate when he and the president flew on Air Force One to a fundraiser in Mobile last week that raised nearly $1 million for Sessions' re-election campaign.

"We've had several pretty good discussions," said Sessions, who likes to spend free time following college football, reading spy novels and watching "Antiques Roadshow" on PBS. "He believes in what he's doing. He made that clear ... but we disagree on this issue."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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