Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama says he is open to serving as Donald Trump's running mate, describing it as a potential opportunity to work in a "historically positive administration."
The 69-year-old Republican, currently in his fourth term, made the rare acknowledgement of interest in a higher office to U.S. News in an interview on Thursday, stressing that he has had no conversations with the Trump campaign about the vice presidency.
"I would have no objection to serving in a Trump administration, but I'm not pushing for that. I'm not expecting it to happen, but I don't want it being reported that I wouldn't take and wouldn't consider serving in a Trump administration because I think it could be a historically positive administration," Sessions says.
Sessions, who became the first sitting U.S. senator to endorse Trump back in February, is the New York billionaire's chief liaison on Capitol Hill. He speaks to Trump several times a week by phone, including on Thursday morning before Trump clinched the 1,237 delegates officially needed to become the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Sessions was drawn to Trump by his hard-line immigration stance and pledge to erect a wall on the Mexican border, as well his blistering critique of American trade deals that both men believe have hollowed out the country's manufacturing sector and sucked away jobs.
Though he demurred when asked whom he thought would make a smart running mate for Trump, Sessions said that on balance, a governing partner is more critical than a choice based on electoral significance.
"The best politics and the best substance is to try to get the best person you can get, somebody who would be a good president. The people will see that – somebody you trust and feel like you could work with and somebody who can help you govern," Sessions says. "[President John] Kennedy and [Vice President Lyndon] Johnson apparently never got along very well. It's better if you get along with your vice president."
See 9 prominent Republican politicians who have reversed course on Trump:
9 prominent Republican politicians who have reversed course on Trump (BI)
Jeff Sessions open to running as Trump's vice president
Former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
In a September op-ed for CNN, then-Republican presidential candidate Jindal described Trump as "a shallow, unserious, substance-free, narcissistic egomaniac."
"We can decide to win, or we can be the biggest fools in history and put our faith not in our principles, but in an egomaniac who has no principles," Jindal wrote.
But following Trump's victory in the Republican presidential primary, Jindal offered a very tepid endorsement of the real-estate magnate.
"I think electing Donald Trump would be the second-worst thing we could do this November, better only than electing Hillary Clinton to serve as the third term for the Obama administration’s radical policies," Jindal wrote in The Wall Street Journal.
REUTERS/Brian C. Frank
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry
During his short-lived 2016 presidential bid, Perry called Trump a "cancer on conservatism" and criticized his inflammatory rhetoric about Mexican immigrants.
"Demeaning people of Hispanic heritage is not just ignorant. It betrays the example of Christ," Perry said in his September concession speech. "We can enforce our laws and our borders, and we can love all who live within our borders, without betraying our values."
But after Sen. Ted Cruz dropped out of the race last week, Perry quickly endorsed the presumptive nominee.
"He is not a perfect man," Perry told CNN. "But what I do believe is that he loves this country and he will surround himself with capable, experienced people and he will listen to them."
Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky)
Last month, Paul said he would support Trump in a likely matchup between Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
But in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses, the former presidential candidate wasn't as fond of Trump, comparing him to infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
"Donald Trump is a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag," Paul said on Comedy Central.
He added: "A speck of dirt is more qualified to be president."
Sen. Marco Rubio (Florida)
Toward the end of his 2016 presidential bid, Rubio unleashed a flurry of rhetorical attacks on Trump.
Among other things, the Florida senator criticized Trump's hypocritical immigration policy prescriptions, joked about Trump urinating in his pants at a GOP debate, and questioned whether voters should hand "the nuclear codes of the United States to an erratic individual."
But last month, Rubio began to shift tone. He said he would support any Republican candidate, including Trump, though he ruled out any interest in being Trump's vice president.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley
Haley confirmed last week that she would "respect the will of the people" and would support Trump's candidacy.
Haley's tune was less favorable in February, when she hit the primary campaign trail in her home state for Sen. Marco Rubio, prompting Trump's ire.
"Bless your heart," Haley said, after Trump labeled her an embarrassment.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
Christie became the first major former presidential candidate to endorse Trump. But just a few months earlier, he was warning voters about Trump's preparedness for the office.
"We do not need reality TV in the Oval Office right now," Christie said in December. "President of the United States is not a place for an entertainer."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
When Walker dropped out of the presidential race after just three months, the governor called on many of his Republican presidential rivals to do the same in order to consolidate support around a conservative candidate.
The governor took a thinly veiled shot at Trump, criticizing the real-estate mogul's brash rhetorical style.
"It has drifted into personal attacks. In the end, I believe that the voters want to be for something and not against someone," Walker said in his concession speech. "Instead of talking about how bad things are, we want to hear how we can make them better for everyone."
Yet late last month, Walker signaled he'd support the GOP nominee against Clinton — though he refused to say Trump's name.
Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sen. Tim Scott (South Carolina)
Scott, a former Rubio endorser, said last week that he would support the Republican presidential nominee.
Though Scott was not a particularly vocal critic of the real-estate magnate, he did condemn Trump's initial refusal to denounce an endorsement from the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
"Any candidate who cannot immediately condemn a hate group like the KKK does not represent the Republican Party, and will not unite it," Scott wrote in a statement. "If Donald Trump can’t take a stand against the KKK, we cannot trust him to stand up for America against Putin, Iran, or ISIS."
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sen. Thom Tillis (North Carolina)
In an interview on Fox Business last year, Tillis, who recently said he would endorse Trump, characterized the former reality-television star's Republican-debate performance as "more entertainment" than policy. He also criticized the presumptive nominee's rhetoric for inciting violence at campaign rallies.
"He has some responsibility for it," Tillis said of the violence at Trump's rallies.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
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Trump has assembled a preliminary, malleable list of potential vice presidential selections, which includes Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Sessions. Advisers say Trump's goal is to unveil his selection the week of the Republican National Convention in July, but there's no indication a formal vetting process is underway.
"I've never talked to him about anything for me," Sessions says. "He'll decide who he wants to pick. It is a big thing and it does need to be done right."
Sessions says he is not intensely lobbying his GOP Senate colleagues to embrace Trump, instead choosing to provide them with information that may allay their concerns or bolster his candidate's case.
For instance, in conversations with Republican lawmakers, Sessions says he often points out that conservative economists like Larry Kudlow and Stephen Moore have embraced Trump's tax plan. It's a way to explain how Trump is more ideologically in sync with party doctrine than many on the right believe.
"I think Trump is right down the alley with them," Sessions says. "If you look at his agenda, it's something we all ought to be able to support. The Republican Party can support this agenda. They may not like some of his expressions and aggressive talk and may feel some of his criticisms are exaggerated and unfair, but fundamentally, it's fair."
Sessions says he was heartened after one GOP senator recently told him he would issue a strong statement of support when Trump landed in his state. The downside: The senator, whom Sessions declined to name, would be out of the country at the time.
Sessions also seemed to wrestle with just how critical party unity will be going forward for Trump.
"It's less important this year than probably ever before, but I think it's important," he says. "How many endorsements did [Jeb] Bush have? One hundred and sixty or something? I mean, the people with the most endorsements went down the fastest. Their endorsements didn't provide very much other than an indication that this person was a product of what the voters think is the problem."
"The most important unity is unity of the voter," he says.