The national press is now writing the political obituary of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who on Tuesday lost the Republican nomination for his former U.S. Senate seat in Alabama.
One little-reported fact is that Sessions, once the most popular politician in his state, is not the first former attorney general to attempt a return to the Senate from which he had resigned to join the presidential cabinet.
The parallels, in fact, between Republican Sessions and Rhode Island Democrat J. Howard McGrath, who lost a Senate primary in 1960, are very similar.
Both left the Senate to become attorney general and both were forced to resign by the president who named them — the disputes between Sessions and McGrath and their presidents both being about a special prosecutor with widespread investigating powers.
Just as Trump tapped early supporter Sessions to be attorney general in 2017, President Harry S.Truman named McGrath — who had been Democratic National Chairman during the president’s upset election win in 1948 — as attorney general in 1949.
The good working relationship between the two ended in 1952 when, amid reports of corruption and graft within the administration, the Justice Department was forced to name New York lawyer Newbold Morris as “Special Assistant Attorney General” with powers to investigate government officials.
On April 3, 1952, McGrath fired Morris because he believed he had gone too far by issuing questionaires about the net worth of Justice Department employees. A few days later, Truman demanded the attorney general’s resignation — reportedly after the two engaged in a loud shouting match. McGrath left and went on to manage the presidential campaign of Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver, who had challenged Truman in the primaries before the president announced he was not running again.
Eight years later, when Rhode Island’s veteran Democratic Sen. Theodore Francis Green retired, McGrath at age 57 launched a bid for his seat. In the primary, he faced a longtime nemesis, Gov. Dennis Roberts, 59. He also faced a fresh face in Claiborne Pell, 41, scion of an old Ocean State family and a former Foreign Service officer.
Unlike Trump, Truman put aside his old grudge with McGrath and made a televised endorsement of the former attorney general praising “his ability and his integrity.” Sen. Kefauver also weighed in with a letter of endorsement for McGrath.
But it was not to be. Pell, who campaigned in three languages, topped the field, followed by Roberts. McGrath placed a distance third in the race.
In what could almost serve as a post-mortem for Republican Sessions’ defeat in Alabama Tuesday, the Newport Daily News wrote of McGrath’s defeat that primary voters “apparently gave up the idea that a senatorial mantle should fall in due succession on those who have duly trod the steps of public office.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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