Because Sessions was fired by Trump in 2018 for recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation into Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, he is now back in the heart of Dixie seeking to get his old Senate seat back. And if Sessions wins the Republican nomination on March 3, he will face Jones in November. What was already going to be a tough reelection fight for Jones was made tougher by his vote to convict Trump on both articles of impeachment. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was lauded for being the only Republican to vote to convict Trump. But the truly courageous vote was cast by Jones, who represents a state Trump won by 28 points and where he has a 60 percent approval rating. It’s a vote Jones doesn’t regret in the slightest.
“It’s one thing to support a president and their policies. It’s another thing to simply acknowledge right from wrong, and people in Alabama, hard-working folks, they know the difference between right and wrong,” Jones told me in the latest episode of “Cape Up,” as he flatly rejected my concern that his vote might have sealed his electoral defeat. “They may disagree with whether or not what he did rose to the level of impeachment, but I don’t think it seals the deal whatsoever. I think people are going to be looking at my record. They’re going to see a record for people in Alabama on kitchen-table issues just like I ran on, and that’s the message that we’re going to get across.”
Given the politics of Alabama, a vote to acquit would have been understandable, but that’s not how Jones plays politics. In fact, Jones insists his decision to vote to convict Trump was not the result of politics at all. “It was not hard from a political standpoint because I, honest to God, did not consider it from a political standpoint,” Jones said. “I’m not that career politician that put that calculation in there like that. But what I am is a lawyer, and I’ve been trained to do the right thing. I’ve been trained to put the best foot forward for the Constitution … so the difficulty of this vote had nothing to do with politics.”
Like many of his Senate colleagues, Jones is a former federal prosecutor. His most notable case led to the conviction of two Klansmen in 2001 and 2002 for their role in bombing the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963, killing four little girls. He took the impeachment trial of the president of the United States just as seriously, taking more than 400 pages of notes with blue and red pens. And he had problems with how the House pursued its case and how the Senate heard the case.
“I really did not think that the House had done all that they could to get the testimony. I was troubled by the fact they didn’t seek some kind of enforcement of the subpoenas,” Jones said, explaining his issues with the obstruction-of-Congress article of impeachment. He appreciated the concern in the House about how long it would take to go through the courts and about the looming election. Still, he said, “I was concerned that they were putting too much emphasis on an artificial deadline. … I understand that there was an election coming up. But at the same time, this was a serious, serious constitutional issue.”
That being said, Jones was clear-eyed about what Trump was up to. “It was pretty clear to me that come hell or high water, this president was not going to turn over a damn document and he was not going to have his closest witnesses [testify],” Jones pointed out. “Sometimes your common sense comes into play. … What are you hiding? What is out there?” He firmly believes any president who had witnesses who could exonerate him would have had them testify “in a heartbeat.” That Trump didn’t, Jones said, “troubled me a good bit.”
What also disturbed him was how the Senate reverted to regular order instead of deliberating the case behind closed doors without staff, as was done during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. “We don’t debate. We don’t talk about it on the floor. … We are not the greatest deliberative body in the world. We don’t deliberate at all. We just go and we give speeches and then we vote. But there’s no debate. There’s nothing,” Jones lamented.
In Jones’s floor speech announcing his vote to convict Trump, he said the case as presented by the House was akin to putting together a puzzle. “One by one, you hold those pieces up and you hold them next to each other and see what fits and what doesn’t,” he said. “And even if, as was often the case in my house growing up, you’re missing a few pieces, even important ones, you more often than not see the picture.” Jones told me he considered hammering this point home by having an enlarged photo of the stained-glass window of Jesus Christ at the 16th Street Baptist Church that was taken after the bombing. Most of it remained intact, except for one prominent piece: the face of Christ.
“No senator would be able to say they don’t know what the picture is,” Jones said.