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Great America

Congress Should Reform, Not Bail Out, the Postal Service

Rather than using billions of taxpayer dollars to paper over problems, Congress needs to step up and do its job.

The rushed $2 trillion COVID-19 “stimulus” bill was infamous, not just for its size, but for its unrelated pork. In a bill aimed at addressing the COVID-19 public health crisis—one supposed to be characterized by hospitals short of resources, ventilators, and masks in short supply, as well as families struggling to make ends meet—the Kennedy Center got a $25 million bailout, “innovative sunscreens” were approved at the Food and Drug Administration, and NASA got $60 million.

Never one to miss a good bailout party, the United States Postal Service (USPS) also got a $10 billion loan. Yet they’re already back, asking for $75 billion more in the next phase of congressional relief efforts. Congress should resist these efforts.

It is debatable whether a second phase of relief effort is even warranted, as the economy, while far from recovered, is flickering back to life.

Moreover, there is the fact that COVID-19 hasn’t wrought any further destruction on the USPS than it was already bringing on itself. On May 8, the USPS announced its second quarter financials which showed no evidence that the pandemic has impacted the organization in any significant way. In fact, the USPS had a total revenue of $17.8 billion compared to the $17.5 billion in the same period last year.

But regardless, any future relief efforts should not continue to fund the USPS—at least not without significant reform as a precondition. “We are not going to do a part-time bailout,” then-congressman, and now White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Postmaster General Megan Brennan in 2019. “I think the chairman would agree with me here, we want a plan so you’re not back here in two years asking for more money.”

It goes without saying that no plan has been forthcoming. Even so, the USPS is already back, asking for cash.

The problems at USPS are systemic—and that is, in part, the fault of Congress. Congress wants the USPS to be competitive with private enterprise, but refuses to allow it to take steps that would ensure this goal. Current federal policy restricts the USPS’s pricing flexibility, requires it to provide expansive employee benefits, imposes collective bargaining, and prevents meaningful cost-cutting measures.

But Congress also positions the USPS in a privileged manner. It has given the USPS a legal monopoly over letters and mailboxes—one that prevents entrepreneurs from entering the postal markets and fostering the competition that can reduce costs and improve quality for consumers.

Congress has also made the USPS exempt from state and local sales, income, and property taxes, as well as parking tickets and vehicle charges. It is immune from a range of civil actions and has its own government regulatory power to use against competitors. Should USPS find itself in a financial pinch, it can borrow up to $15 billion from the U.S. Treasury at low interest rates.

And yet, even in spite of this thumb on the scale, the USPS has run 13 consecutive years of multi-billion dollar deficits, losing $69 billion since 2007. Without reform, these losses undoubtedly will continue.

In 2018, the Department of the Treasury submitted a series of reforms for Congress to consider, recommending changes around institutional governance, price structures, cost allocations, and more. The report noted that “USPS’s ability to achieve and maintain sustainability over the long-term is dependent upon formative reforms to its business model that will enable it to flexibly and swiftly adapt to the social, technological, and operational changes in the mail and package markets.”

But it hasn’t happened, because Congress, as it does with so many things, continues to sit this one out—preferring instead to throw cash at a problem they have the power but lack the will to fix in a structural way.

As the country faced down the COVID-19 pandemic, some relief certainly was warranted to help the thousands of families and small business owners struggling to comply with the government-imposed shelter-in-place requirements.

But a necessary response to a pandemic evolved, as these bills so often do, into a ride-along for unrelated priorities, special projects, and, in the case of the USPS, a bailout which merely served to perpetuate a badly broken operation, rather than take aim at the root causes of its failings.

Rather than using billions of taxpayer dollars to paper over problems, Congress should step up and do its job. Stop bailing out the Postal Service. Reform it.

Elections

Lazy Republican Senate Drops the Ball on Nominations

When it comes to a lagging confirmation process, the Republican Senate blames everyone but the people who are truly at fault. They have only themselves to blame.

On an afternoon in early April last year, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went to the floor of the Senate. In uncharacteristically emotive tones, McConnell, flushed with rage, jabbed his finger in the direction of the Democratic side of the chamber. “He started this whole thing,” he said, referencing Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “We’re trying to end the dysfunction on the executive calendar,” he snapped.

Ending the dysfunction around executive branch nominees meant deploying the Senate’s third nuclear option in seven years. The nuclear option—so named because instead of changing its rules, the Senate simply breaks its rules over and over again, setting a new precedent—was deployed to reduce the hours of post-cloture debate time for most executive branch nominations from 30 hours to two.

The details  of the change are less important (but for those interested, you can read about why I thought this was a bad idea here and here) than the reason given for such drastic action. The Democratic obstruction was “systemic.” The filibuster efforts were nakedly partisan and destroying the Senate’s “norms and reasonable process” for confirming nominations.

Using the nuclear option to further restrict filibusters and debate on nominations would save us all, we were told. It would restore order to the Senate and allow confirmations to proceed apace.

Yet, just over a year later, Politico published an article lamenting “record-breaking gridlock” on Trump’s nominees, with Democrat obstruction still the source of the problem.

It’s unquestionably true that Democrats have filibustered Trump’s nominees disproportionately, compared to how previous presidents have been treated. Republicans have had to overcome 312 filibusters during Trump’s first term, compared to only 17 launched by Republicans during President Obama’s first term. 

But the power of that filibuster has diminished significantly. The 60-vote requirement is gone for every nomination, even the Supreme Court. And the time required to confirm most nominations has been reduced from 30 hours per nomination to 2 hours. Moreover, though they demand cloture votes, most Democrats end up supporting Trump’s nominees. 

So what gives? The nuclear option was supposed to be the means that got us around the “historic Democratic obstruction.” Why hasn’t it?

The answer lies, as it usually does, in the Senate’s unwillingness to show up and do the job. As I wrote shortly after the nuclear option was deployed last year, under the Senate’s new precedent, they could have cleared the existing nominations backlog in two weeks if they had just worked around the clock—even if Democrats filibustered every nominee.

That’s a heavy lift for the geriatric Senate whose members, normally, work 2.5 days a week. So let’s make it more reasonable. Even working five days a week on a regular eight-hour work day, at two hours per nominee, the Senate could still do 19 nominations a week in the face of repeated Democratic filibusters.

But doesn’t the Senate have other things to do? Yes. And no. The modern Senate does very little legislating compared to its predecessors. In the six months of 2020, there have been only 15 amendment votes. And Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) bears the distinction of having the only amendment passed to a substantive piece of legislation (the other four successful amendments were to amend the “findings” of non-binding resolutions).

But in nuking its rules, the Senate prioritized confirmations even above legislation. They made confirming nominations the easiest thing to do in the Senate—thereby giving themselves the procedural imperative to act on nominations. It’s virtually the only thing the Senate does anymore. 

The Senate has confirmed over 200 federal judges, almost 30 more than President Bill Clinton had confirmed at the same time in his first term, though the judicial vacancy rate is still higher than it was under both President George W. Bush and Clinton.

Two hundred federal judges isn’t nothing, but it also isn’t a great something considering how little else the Senate does. Without a true filibuster to overcome, (nominees are confirmed at 51 votes, not the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster on legislation) confirming nominations is less parliamentary wizardry than it is mindless scheduling. 

There is also the fact that the Senate, as a meaningful deliberative or legislative body, is largely irrelevant. McConnell has hitched his legacy to the 51 Republican-appointed Appeals Court nominees installed by his Senate—an overt acknowledgement of the fact that the Senate relies on the courts to enact the policies they deem too politically perilous to debate and legislate about themselves.

But the fact remains. It’s not Democratic filibusters stalling confirmations. Democrats can only block nominees brought to the floor for two hours. It’s the GOP Senate’s unwillingness to force them to the floor.

Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) used to say “there are only two rules in the Senate: exhaustion and unanimous consent. And the second only applies when the first has been reached.” 

There is nothing stopping McConnell from doing what former Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) used to do: threaten to keep the Senate in over the weekend unless Democrats agree to clear by consent (which doesn’t require voting) a package of nominations. This is a reasonable option, considering that most Democrats end up voting for Trump’s nominees anyway. 

There is also nothing stopping McConnell from filing cloture on the 79 (as of June 10) nominations on the Senate’s calendar, and exacting a sort of death march through their confirmations—daring Democrats actually to use two hours of post-cloture debate time on each nominee (the Senate’s rules allow for the Senate to “call the question”—that is, move to the vote then and there—when debate time goes unused).  

Instead, McConnell would rather blame Democrats. Because it’s easier, andit doesn’t upset the members of his GOP caucus who prefer not to work. It’s an easy argument to placate the president, who naturally wants the members of his administration confirmed—particularly when the nominations to boards and commissions will outlast his administration, if he only serves one term.

The Senate has spent the last several years drifting into irrelevance, preferring to avoid the fierce legislative battles for which the Senate is designed. It’s safer that way. The leadership has more control. The senators can sit and age in silence, never being forced to create a record of what they stand for, or exercise any of the legislative autonomy granted to them by the body itself.

So the McConnell Senate can blame the Democrats all they want for obstruction. It was the same excuse back in 2019 to break the Senate’s rules. And it’s the same excuse now, even though changing the very character of the Senate was allegedly supposed to save us all from those meddling Democrats.

President Trump and his advisors should see through the specious arguments of the lazy McConnell Senate and take their fight where it truly belongs. When it comes to a lagging confirmation process, the Republican Senate blames everyone but the people who are truly at fault. They have only themselves to blame.

Elections

Jeff Sessions Deserves Your Vote

Alabama voters should ignore Trump’s rage-tweets and vote for Jeff Sessions in November.

It’s no secret that President Trump has harbored a grudge against Jeff Sessions ever since Sessions, as the Trump Administration’s first attorney general, recused himself from the Russia collusion delusion investigation.

Like many others, I was frustrated by Sessions’ recusal and said as much in 2018. Yet, Sessions had no legal choice but to recuse himself once President Trump went on MSNBC to gloat over his decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey for the grotesque Russia investigation. 

What’s more, Jeff Sessions is someone who has a solid record on immigration policy, the issue that got Trump elected. In fact, when it comes to immigration, Sessions was one of the few consistent bright lights in the Senate over the last several decades. 

Now that Sessions is running to reclaim his lost Senate seat, President Trump is wading into the Republican primary in Alabama to demand that Alabama voters support Sessions’ imbecilic opponent who supports open borders, Tommy Tuberville. Once again, the president is exhibiting poor political judgment of the sort that helped Democrats win the midterms in 2018. 

Patterns of Poor Political Judgment

The truth is that President Trump never should have offered to make Jeff Sessions attorney general without first having done his due diligence. By taking Sessions away from the Senate, Trump created a gaping hole in what was once a safe and reliable Republican seat. The president constantly rages against Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Yet, Trump is the one who should have done the proper level of vetting for all of his cabinet appointees to ensure that there were no conflicts of interest. 

Clearly, Trump did not do this. 

Besides, no one told Trump to go to the press and gloat about how he fired Comey. That is, after all, what prompted the whole imbroglio with Sessions to begin with. The president likes to blame Sessions for doing that which Sessions was legally required to do (since 2018, I’ve spoken to a retinue of attorneys who insist that Sessions had no choice but to recuse himself). 

Should Sessions instead have broken the law? 

Further highlighting Trump’s poor political judgment in this instance, the president left the selection of Sessions’ Republican replacement in the 2018 midterms to none other than the quiet “NeverTrump” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The most obvious replacement for Sessions was the solidly conservative Mo Brooks. Instead, McConnell wanted the lukewarm, pro-amnesty Luther Strange

At the time, Trump’s former adviser, Steve Bannon, supported Strange’s primary opponent, Roy Moore. Of course, Moore was much closer to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” beliefs. Nevertheless, Trump supported Luther Strange—who lost decisively to the far more Trumpian Roy Moore—out of spite for his former White House adviser. It was wrong, especially coming from a president who demands the loyalty of those working for him. It seems he rarely exhibits this quality himself (just ask General Flynn, who continues to languish under the false accusations that he was a Russian stooge).

Of course, a smear campaign was waged against Moore in the pages of the Washington Post which claimed that Moore was a sexual deviant. To compound matters, Moore’s public presentation of himself came across as weird. And it is believed that people close to McConnell were feeding these rumors about Roy Moore to the Post. Whether the claims were true or not, Roy Moore was always a terrible candidate. Yet when 2018 ended, the most decisively Republican Senate seat was lost to one of the most left-wing, pro-abortion politicians imaginable: Doug Jones. This was all because of the poor political judgment of the president: he should not have taken Sessions out of the Senate and, when he did, Trump should have pressured the GOP to place the strongest, most conservative candidate (Mo Brooks) as Sessions’ replacement. 

Now that Sessions is seeking to reclaim his old Senate seat from the infanticidal, pro-illegal immigration Democratic Senator Doug Jones, Trump is yet again supporting the wrong Republican candidate. Like Luther Strange, Tommy Tuberville will not win and instead will cede Alabama’s Senate seat to the virulently NeverTrump Doug Jones. Trump’s political judgment on this matter is so bad, in fact, that Ann Coulter may be correct when she says the president is handing the Senate over to the Democrats in November with antics like this.

There Are No Perfect Choices in Politics

American politics is about taking the bitter with the better. Rarely will a candidate for office be everything to everyone (just ask Bill Press about Barack Obama). If, however, one can find a candidate who supports the right policies and at the same time is a relatively decent human being while being loyal, as Sessions is, one should do his part to keep him in office. Especially when the alternatives are so bad.

Despite the fact that things between President Trump and Sessions ended badly, the former attorney general continues to defend the president and does his best to formulate issues in a way to help the  president heading into 2020. Sessions exhibits no vindictiveness, no bitterness. He is the consummate professional.

Which is more than I can say for Trump. 

Jeff Sessions is a man the Republican Party and Alabama need representing them in the Senate. He is civil, smart, and strong. Sessions has exercised political and policy judgments over the course of his career that are better than those of the president who doggedly (and unfairly) besmirches Sessions’ good name—and continues weakening the Republican position in Alabama. Sessions would be a consistent ally in the Senate for President Trump, if the president would just get out of his own way and let bygones be bygones. Sessions deserves to win the Senate seat in November more than Open Borders Tuberville. 

President Trump is behaving like Captain Queeg after he lost his beloved strawberries in the great Humphrey Bogart film, The Caine Mutiny. It’s embarrassing. The president apparently fails to understand the consequences of his wading into the Alabama Senate primary fight: by damaging Sessions, Trump will split the Republican vote in Alabama, and only empower the much worse Doug Jones. 

And should Tommy Tuberville somehow actually win the Senate seat, Trump will only have elevated a man who is opposed to his immigration platform—the real reason why Trump won in 2016.

Going Forward

I’ll vote for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in November because I prefer The Caine Mutiny to Mr. Magoo. But let’s not delude ourselves any longer about the president’s shabby political judgment. If Trump is not careful, he’ll ensure that the GOP loses the Senate to the Democrats in 2020, which will kill his agenda should the president get a second term. 

Alabama voters should ignore Trump’s rage-tweets and vote for Jeff Sessions in November. 

Elections

Our Crooked Congress

While we all hope we can get back to normal sometime soon, there’s almost zero reason to believe Congress will start acting in a responsible way and this is exactly the kind of “normal” we should hope to avoid.

While the American people should always be watching what is taking place in Washington, D.C., this is ever more true in our current crisis. In case you weren’t watching, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have made it very clear where their priorities lie. Hint: They are not with Americans or their well being.

Democrats decided that the Chinese coronavirus pandemic was a great time to try and backdoor their long laundry list of Leftie goals. While Americans are fearing for their lives and livelihoods, Pelosi and her crew were treating the crisis as though it were a political gift—a genie in a bottle who could make all their wishes come true.

Green New Deal, open borders, funding sanctuary cities, forcing unions on mid-sized companies (500-10,000 employees) if they take government funds, ballot harvesting, and a cool $350 million for migrants and refugees, among other items.

But even more insulting is that the Democrats decided it was time to take advantage of a crisis to hand out goodies for their friends: $75 million for the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio, $50 million for the Office of Museum and Library services that already got funded for the year, $8 billion for tribal governments, $10 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, $25 million for the Kennedy Center (because nothing says helping the American people like giving the Kennedy Center a facelift even though it’s sitting on a $140 million endowment), and—wait for it kids—a $25 million pay raise for the House of Representatives as well as $20 million for the FBI to cover “salaries and expenses.”

But don’t worry: just be good little people and you’ll get your $1,200 check as well as $500 per kid, unless of course the geniuses in Congress have deemed you to make too much money. Then you get squadoosh. Think of all this as a bowl of porridge for Americans in exchange for your inheritance kinda deal.

At a time when we should be focused on the most expedient way to save lives and save jobs, Democrats were peddling for all the legislation they’d hoped to pass during President Trump’s first term and failed.

The good news is that the Senate version stripped out most of the nonsense, however, quite conveniently, left most of the pork intact. But imagine for one minute that Democrats controlled the Senate or, worse yet, the White House. You’d be looking at a brave new world right now.

The behavior on display is somewhere between deeply immoral and evil, but also feels like par for the course. Throw on top such things as, say, the insider trading elected representatives of both parties and staff now stand accused of, and you might think the swamp is more a steamy sewer of absolute corruption funded by the hard work of American taxpayers. The people in Congress were granted privileged, classified information regarding the state of our markets in closed-door briefings. With that knowledge, instead of protecting the American people, they protected the security of their own pockets.

As a reminder, the Commodity Exchange Act, better known as the Stock Act, became law in April 2012. It prohibited this very thing—though let’s be honest, the fact that such an obvious breach of ethics had to be codified in order for us to recognize it as unlawful is semi-shocking. But don’t worry, though: the Stock Act was gutted in 2013 and now its penalties serve as a mere slap on the wrist.

Not only that, but let’s not forget the other time Congress repurposed your taxpayer dollars to benefit themselves: remember the $25 million they used to hush up sexual harassment suits? That would be tens of millions more to bail out the American people and small business owners, but sorry, gotta keep that immoral congressional behavior on the sly to help re-elections so they can sell us out again.

The overarching trouble with Congress today is that most of them view you as their ATM to fund their priorities. But let’s face it: They also view laws as a series of suggestions for themselves rather than as the rules that govern our nation and ensure it runs smoothly.

While we all hope we can get back to normal sometime soon, there’s almost zero reason to believe Congress will start acting in a responsible way and this is exactly the kind of “normal” we should hope to avoid. Perhaps the electorate can look forward to the fall elections and hold accountable those who exacerbated an already unbelievable situation.

Great America

Watch for Waste in Stimulus Spending

Americans are rightfully worried about the health of their friends, families, and 401Ks. We are, too. People shouldn’t also have to worry that federal emergency funds meant to save lives and livelihoods are being wasted to put fish on treadmills or renovate an opera house.

The Trump Administration and Congress are hashing out a stimulus package expected to cost taxpayers over $2 trillion to combat the devastating effects of the coronavirus outbreak on workers, businesses, and the economy. American families are hurting and Congress has a responsibility to consider targeted measures that help those who are feeling the economic effects of this pandemic. However, even in times of crisis, systems for transparency and accountability are needed to ensure these precious public dollars are not wasted.

With the pork stuffed into some of the COVID-19 stimulus proposals—like Democrats’ plan to bail out the U.S. Postal Service’s debt, reform small newspapers’ pension programs, and give a $35 million payout to D.C.’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts—we need to be vigilant to ensure this stimulus doesn’t turn into a slush fund as others have.

A decade ago, President Barack Obama enacted an $862 billion stimulus package to reverse the Great Recession that followed the financial crisis. The program fell short of its lofty job creation, infrastructure, and growth goals, in part because too much stimulus money was spent on irrelevant and inefficient programs.

Many people have heard about the $535 million in stimulus money wasted when failed solar panel company Solyndra went under, but waste, fraud, and abuse under the previous stimulus program were widespread.

In 2010, a year after the stimulus was passed, former Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) released their now-legendary report, “Summertime Blues: 100 stimulus projects that give taxpayers the blues.” The report highlighted Obama stimulus projects that the Senators said had “questionable goals,” were “being mismanaged or were poorly planned” and were even “costing jobs and hurting small businesses.”

One infamous example from the stimulus report that attracted the ire of fiscal hawks and animal-lovers was a $144,541 National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded experiment that hooked monkeys on cocaine. Coburn and McCain wrote, “Researchers at Wake Forest University think that, in at least one case, it is good to monkey around with your stimulus dollars.”

Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) later uncovered a study that used $560,000 in Obama stimulus money from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to put fish on treadmills

Surely, this is not how Americans intended for this stimulus money to be spent, and the opportunity still exists for this abuse of taxpayers under the guise of a national emergency.

Earlier this month, Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) lambasted an NSF-funded study that wasted over $900,000 to place dead turtles and living turtles on a treadmill to study how they move. White Coat Waste Project recently exposed that the NIH shipped over $6 million in tax dollars to a U.K. university to addict monkeys to cocaine, heroin, and alcohol and wasted more than $16 million scaring monkeys with fake snakes and spiders. 

Wasteful junkie monkey experiments and treadmill tests are alive and well, and we can’t let government bureaucrats and special interests exploit a tragedy again to funnel vulnerable taxpayers’ money to their pet projects. 

Something the Obama Administration’s stimulus bill got right was assigning an independent body to oversee stimulus projects and launching Recovery.gov to track spending and report abuse. For each project, the now-defunct government website reported how much money was spent, the number of jobs created, and other details. 

Any stimulus bills that make it to the president’s desk should include a mechanism for independent oversight of spending and mandate a transparent and user-friendly system allowing taxpayers and lawmakers to hold government accountable for where stimulus money is going and what impact it has on the economy.

Americans are rightfully worried about the health of their friends, families, and 401Ks. We are, too. People shouldn’t also have to worry that federal emergency funds meant to save lives and livelihoods are being wasted to put fish on treadmills or renovate an opera house.

Elections

Republicans Learn How to Use Political Power

Whatever Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is doing—and he is doing most of it discreetly and behind the scenes—is working. Combined with President Trump’s message and popularity, this has proven to be a powerful combination. As all warriors know, it pays to be a winner.

In Navy SEAL training, winners of competitive events are often rewarded with extra chow and rest. Losers are punished. As the cadre constantly reminds trainees, “It pays to be a winner.”

As we’ve seen with the Democrats’ impeachment debacle and the Republican Senate’s ongoing successes with judges—including the confirmation of Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knows how to win. The New York Times grimly reported, “Democrats have called Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, the grim reaper. He embraces the nickname with enthusiasm.”

Indeed, his effectiveness is remarkable only because it is so rare among Republicans. Republicans traditionally delight in stiffing their voters. Has everyone forgotten the late Senator John McCain’s dramatic refusal to repeal Obamacare after years of promising to do so? While McConnell is a low-key guy, he is at peace with Trump, has focused on their common goals, and is not hostile to the wishes of his most important constituents, Republican voters.

In spite of their differences in style, Trump and McConnell share an important agreement regarding their fundamental understanding of politics: they both know that politics is about power and winning.

Working Together, As a Party Should

Trump’s embrace of power is undeniable. He has employed executive power to assert American interests on trade. He has deployed military power in a limited way against America’s enemies abroad, particularly in the case of ISIS. Trump has used executive power to move defense budget money around to build a wall.

McConnell and Trump both have grasped that judges have been an important stumbling block to Republican agenda items and have worked hard to ensure a record number of judges are confirmed during this window of opportunity.

Republicans were not always like this. An old friend—and one who is typical of the NeverTrump mindset—insists that how you play the game is more important than winning. But actually, it’s not. This is not baseball. Politics is high stakes. The genteel refusal to deploy power against the Left is an artifact from a different kind of politics in a different kind of country.

We are no longer having a “national conversation” among friends. It’s not about who has the better arguments. It’s a war. We count votes as a shorthand measure for numbers and power. As in war, you win first and worry about principles later.

There’s a reason the American War for Independence, which was treason to the crown and concluded with the mass expulsion of Loyalists, as well as the various illegalities and savage use of military force during the Civil War, were later recast as episodes of high morality. These laudatory accounts were the product of victory, the most clarifying event in war and politics.

Trump stumbled upon something that should have been obvious, but that had been suppressed and pilloried: that there is power in pursuing policies that are popular.

Instead of alienating and redirecting the enthusiasm of Republican voters, he instead harnessed their energy with the politics of nationalism. As our own Julie Ponzi observed regarding the sovereign people, “It’s time now for the GOP to regroup and remember who’s the boss. None of this is to say that statesmen never need to or should not attempt to correct the sovereign when he is out of line. But ignoring or deceiving him is always a bad idea.”

Weak Paul Ryan Missed an Opportunity

McConnell’s adjustment to reality and concern for results should be contrasted with former Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Ryan ran as a conservative, mouthing the right words about abortion, gay marriage, and big government. But, when in office, he tended to be AWOL on the culture war and diffident about Republican voters, much like President George W. Bush, who reflexively chastised them.

During the Bush years, Ryan was the model Republican, concerned more with fiscal issues than cultural ones, and gladly acting as a water boy for big business, whose wants were laundered into high minded and “principled” policy positions through the think tanks they fund. Bush and Ryan both pushed for tax cuts, immigration amnesty, and government transfer payments to the pharmaceutical industry, and nothing they did stopped a single abortion, dealt with the long-term impact of demographic replacement, or addressed the mass death and demoralization among working-class Americans.

Ryan is the reason that what should have been the most effective years of the Trump presidency were wasted. He promised Trump’s wall money in exchange for a business-as-usual budget and then failed to deliver. He spent inordinate time wringing his hands about Trump’s twitter feed, as if the tastes of Washington, D.C. media figures were his lodestar. And he remained speaker even as he announced his plans to retire, offering little in the way of direction or assistance to embattled GOP congressmen during the transition, which contributed to Republicans losing the House in 2018.

Ryan and the rest of the NeverTrump crowd fundamentally misunderstood GOP voters in other ways. These voters are not libertarians, are not necessarily in love with big corporations, and they are not enthusiastic about “free trade” or nation-building. They don’t buy into the moral code of the elite. Even if these voters cared about manners and tone, they cared more about finding someone to resist a hostile elite and their decades-long culture war against Middle America.

In other words, Trump’s voters knew the American people were in a real fight against a real enemy. And to fight you need a fighter, not Ned Flanders. But the only group Republicans like Paul Ryan, Jeff Flake, and Justin Amash were willing to fight for—to the point of “retiring” and leaving their seats vulnerable—were their megadonors and the media.

While some NeverTrumpers are lunatics hell-bent on revenge, Ryan was more typical. He was polite and conflicted. In spite of his superficial differences with his opponents, he fundamentally bought into the pseudomorality of the Left. The professional class’s morality is steeped in the feminism of the businesswoman and her beta lackeys, who recoiled in horror at the “Access Hollywood” tape.

This is the same group that considers Trump’s jokes worse than Bill Clinton’s rapes. The group who palled around with terrorists like Bill Ayers and child sex traffickers like Jeffrey Epstein. This group presumes to tell us about Trump’s breaking of norms. Weak and useless, Ryan never challenged the illegitimacy of the corrupt elite or their anti-morality.

McConnell, while clearly not a populist of the Trump variety, has been far more effective than Ryan because he has been willing to adapt, understands the stakes, and is respectful of his voters’ convictions. He is also willing to use the same bare-knuckle skills that he perfected during the Obama years when he was the minority leader.

Whatever he is doing—and he is doing most of it discreetly and behind the scenes—is working. Combined with Trump’s message and popularity, this has proven to be a powerful combination. As all warriors know, it pays to be a winner.

Elections

Why on Earth Would Trump Endorse Carl DeMaio?

The Republican congressional candidate from San Diego is pro-choice, pro-immigration, and vocally anti-Trump. Yet the “conservative” media in Washington thinks the president should endorse him. Huh?

In the Republican Party’s Trump era it is baffling to note how some ostensibly on the Right believe the GOP should be selecting candidates based on identity politics. More curious still is that the latest call for President Trump to endorse a San Diego RINO candidate for Congress, Carl DeMaio, has come from a writer with a track record of attacking the president and his policies, ad nauseam.

In an article entitled President Trump should endorse Carl DeMaio, who would be the only openly gay Republican in Congress,” Washington Examiner writer Brad Polumbo advances the argument that the president should endorse DeMaio—whose nasty comments about the president couldn’t be much worse—simply because he’s gay.

That’s right: for nothing more than that he’s gay. Not because he’s conservative mind you. Since he isn’t.

“If the president wises up and endorses DeMaio, history could be made by sending an openly gay Republican to Congress,” says Polumbo. 

Except that’s not why our party picks candidates, nor should it ever be a reason. We choose people on the basis of their views, their beliefs, their merits, not their identity.

In the article, Polumbo also reveals DeMaio is scarcely conservative on the issue of life: 

The candidate seems hesitant to identify as either pro-life or pro-choice, calling himself “constitutionally libertarian” on the issue in our conversation, and saying that Roe v. Wade is “settled law.” 

We’ve no need for mushy moderates on the issue of life—which is, of course, another red flag. In fact, DeMaio has “battled” to be regarded as a moderate, yet is now begging for the MAGA base endorsement. 

In 2014 he declared: “I am the gay, pro-choice, pro-reformer who has taken on his own party time and time again” and under the Obama adminstration, he effectively supported DACA and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United States.

In what universe does Polumbo think Trump would ever consider endorsing a pro-choice, pro-immigration moderate like DeMaio?

DeMaio, arguably, should go back to the Libertarian Party, which he endorsed for president in 2016 when he announced: “Never Trump? Well, maybe you should consider the Libertarian option.”

After all, if he still thinks the president is a “disgusting pig”—as he tweeted ahead of the November 2016 election—then maybe, just maybe, that’s one endorsement he should never get.

We’ve seen what Trump’s endorsement of spineless pukes like Mitt Romney (R-Utah) did for him during this impeachment saga. Why on earth would we need another one like him in Congress? It’s time for true America First candidates, true allies for Trump in Congress, not mushy moderates like DeMaio.

DeMaio has even accused Trump of knowing how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Odd. He should tell that to the Americans now cheering the booming economy, the hundreds of conservative federal judges serving on the bench, the work on the border wall, the signing of new trade deals, and to the strengthening of the NATO alliance by forcing other nations to pay their fair share.

Oh, and tell it to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Qassem Soleimani, too. 

Truth is, most on the Right don’t care about the sexuality of a candidate running for office. But many do consider a candidate’s words and his record. And Carl DeMaio’s are exceptionally poor.

Elections

Who Will Terminate the Would-Be Terminators?

In both the impeachment inquiry and the investigation of President Trump’s tax records, House Democrats are using unconstitutional means toward anti-democratic ends. SCOTUS announced yesterday that it was reviewing the Trump tax return case. Ken Masugi discusses.

The Democrats intended impeachment to cripple if not terminate the Trump presidency. But now it appears the appalling “Rise of the Bureaucrats” will exonerate Trump and may, in fact, lead to the termination of the Democrats.

Like vermin, they flee from light or open hearings. And like the cinematic “Terminator,” they are a ruthless enemy: these operatives of the administrative state can take diverse forms to advance their anti-democratic goals: judges, military officers, congressional staffers, consultants, academics, bureaucrats high and low, as well as elected officials.

And, as the Department of Justice investigations will once again bear out, the ties between the various tribes of the administrative state are close and calculated.

The hearings’ bumbling search for a crime (treason, quid pro quo, bribery?) should backfire on the Democrats, despite the best efforts of the private branch of the administrative state and the media to deconstruct unconstitutional behavior. And even then one is puzzled at whether the punishment of impeachment fits the purported crime? The hearings might be dismissed as a comedic Gilbert and Sullivan spectacle if constitutional self-government were not at stake.

Most Republican members brought sanity to the hearings by asking simple questions—e.g., did the president commit a crime?—which elicited a simple answer, “No.”

Unfortunately, this technique may not satisfy citizens who find President Trump appalling for a variety of reasons. They may mistake unconventional behavior for unconstitutional action or vanity for the hubris of contempt for the law. (Trump is certainly not a Bush, which of course is why his supporters love him.)

In the understanding of Trump critics, policy differences may amount to crimes. Yet even unconstitutional behavior does not necessarily merit removal from office. After all, if a president loses a Supreme Court case by a 5-4 or even 9-0 vote, that hardly means he should resign or be removed from his office.

But this level of discussion, as skillfully as the House Republicans handled it (especially given the strictures on the process imposed by the Democratic majority), misses the core of the constitutional debate. By combating the administrative state, Donald Trump is the grand restorer of constitutional government. The separation of powers cannot exist unless the different branches exert their respective powers with vigor and cunning. Americans should fear an unchecked presidency, but they should fear even more malicious and self-important bureaucrats who want to do good—by running over others. All the more so when those “others” are people constitutionally elected by the sovereign people and, therefore, accountable to them. To whom are these bureaucrats accountable?

But that is, perhaps, the core of the Democratic (and some Republican) resentment of Trump: no longer is government a matter of cushy deals, at home or abroad.

We are reminded that an earlier Congress failed to remove Andrew Johnson when, among other constitutional violations, he did

make and declare, with a loud voice, certain intemperate, inflammatory and scandalous harangues, and therein utter loud threats and bitter menaces, as well against Congress as the laws of the United States duly enacted thereby, amid the cries, jeers and laughter of the multitudes then assembled in hearing, which are set forth in the several specifications . . . to set aside the rightful authorities and powers of Congress, did attempt to bring into disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt and reproach, the Congress of the United States . . . .

Johnson’s presidency, indeed, was a disaster, but this particular article of impeachment contributed nothing to those indictments. Today one can view such “harangues” as virtually a constitutional duty, given Congress’s many successful assaults on the Constitution over the past half-century and more.

Impeachment Powers are Distinct from Legislative Powers

Overlooked during these recent impeachment proceedings was a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals case involving congressional subpoenas of Trump’s tax returns decided October 11 and later denied an en banc hearing, with the whole circuit court sitting on November 13. Two judges (both former Clarence Thomas clerks, appointed by Trump) wrote insightful dissents that remind Congress of the constitutional requirements of their legislative powers. The administration will appeal the adverse decision in the D.C. Court of Appeals on Trump v. Mazars USA and Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, which validated the subpoena.

I quote from Judge Neomi Rao’s sharp, historical distinction between the House’s legislative powers and its impeachment powers from her October 11 dissent: “Investigations of impeachable offenses simply are not, and never have been, within Congress’s legislative power . . . . Allowing the Committee to issue this subpoena [of Trump’s tax returns] for legislative purposes would turn Congress into a roving inquisition over a co-equal branch of government.”

Instead, Rao notes, the subpoena might be part of an impeachment inquiry: “The House may not use the legislative power to circumvent the protections and accountability that accompany the impeachment power.” The House may try to “impeach a ham sandwich,” as some have put it, but even that sandwich has rights under the impeachment clauses. (Legislatively, it might be turned into spam by loose use of the “necessary and proper” clause, but even then there are limits, which belong in another discussion.)

All of Congress’s legislative powers are spelled out in Article I, Section 8, which does not mention impeachment. Impeachment and the trial involve the distinctive impeachment power and are treated in other sections of Article I. They spell out the rules for the House regarding impeachment and the rules for the Senate and chief justice of the Supreme Court regarding the trial. In addition, Article II, on the executive power, provides for penalties for conviction in the cases of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Recognizing how impeachment involves Congress assuming judicial as well as executive responsibilities, Rao observes in a recent dissent, “Throughout our history, Congress, the President, and the courts have insisted upon maintaining the separation between the legislative and impeachment powers of the House and recognized the gravity and accountability that follow impeachment.”

When Congress acts as a judicial body, it needs to follow established rules and not its Calvin Ball impeachment behavior of late. And, most troubling, a legislative request for Trump’s tax returns might reflect a constitutionally forbidden Bill of Attainder, a law directing criminal punishment intended for a particular person.

A Congressional Process Completely Out of Bounds

This explains why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s delegation of the impeachment process to the Intelligence Committee was a violation of impeachment protocol. Why not the Agriculture Committee? After all, the so-called whistleblower, who started the case, was working with the Intelligence Committee, which itself should have been an object of investigation in the impeachment proceedings, not the committee running them. This delegation is, of course, how legislation in the administrative state proceeds, keeping matters in the dark. That the Democrats plan to return formal impeachment power to the Judiciary Committee is a mere figleaf.

Under the administrative state, the House produces ham sandwiches or more accurately, promises of ham sandwiches. But once the House decides to investigate criminal allegations against the president, he is entitled to the protections of the impeachment process. Thus, as Rao maintains, the “House may not use the legislative power to circumvent the protections and accountability that accompany the impeachment power.”

As Chief Justice John Marshall once stated, “the power to tax involves the power to destroy.” It might be added today that the power to examine tax returns involves the power to destroy individual rights.

While the IRS may investigate tax fraud, politicians may not have such an inherently abused power without destroying constitutional government. In both the tax inquiry and the impeachment proceedings, Democrats have converted a grave constitutional obligation into a partisan game, betraying their oaths of office and establishing a foul precedent that further demeans constitutional government. They insist on the right to play “Terminator” with citizen rights, not only President Trump’s powers of office.

News

Former Congressman Darrell Issa Announces New Congressional Bid

Former Congressman Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) has announced his intentions to run for a different seat in the House of Representatives, according to Fox News.

The businessman and former nine-term congressman will run for California’s 50th congressional district, located in San Diego. Both numerically and geographically, the district neighbors Issa’s former district, the Orange County-based 49th district, from which Issa retired in 2018. He previously represented the 48th district in his first term, before it was redrawn into the 49th.

The 50th district is now held by fellow Republican Duncan D. Hunter, who has come under scrutiny recently for allegations of campaign finance fraud, though no evidence has emerged to support these claims. The 42-year-old former Marine has been in Congress since 2008, when he succeeded his father, Duncan L. Hunter, in the 52nd district, and has represented the 50th district since 2012. Hunter won his closest re-election bid in 2018, winning 52 percent of the vote against a Palestinian Democrat named Ammar Campa-Najjar.

Of the 53 congressional districts in California, only 7 are held by Republicans after their heavy losses in 2018. Hunter’s seat is widely considered the most competitive of the remaining Republican-held seats. Prior to Issa’s announcement, Hunter was facing six Republican challengers; four of those challengers dropped out and endorsed Issa’s bid after he joined the race.

America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Democrats • GOPe • Government Reform • Greatness Agenda • The Constitution

Containing Congressional Cowardice

Steady!

In 2006, George W. Bush faced the ultimate test of his presidency: whether to surge in Iraq or lose the war—all in the midst of a contentious midterm election. At the very least, Bush might have expected that the GOP would have stood united with him on the precipice of its electoral crucible.

But, of course, this was not to be.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the embodiment of why Congress needs term limits, rushed into the Oval Office on the eve of the 2006 midterm elections. McConnell (to evoke a Trump image) was basically on his knees, begging Bush not to deploy more troops. In an act of Larry David-like self-loathing, McConnell pleaded with Bush to give up his presidency so that the GOP could maintain power in Congress.

With friends like these, right?

Bush ignored the pathetic display and doubled down on his surge strategy. In so doing, he likely prevented Iraq from being a lost war under his watch. The GOP lost in 2006 and began its torturous descent to minority status on Capitol Hill.

By 2009, all seemed to be lost for the GOP. Barack Obama had won the presidency and the Democratic Party held considerable majorities in both houses of Congress. It was only then that Mitch McConnell, with little left to lose, showed some gumption and vowed to resist Barack Obama at every turn.

During this period, the GOP leadership insisted that they would do more legislatively if The People would just give them the House. Well, two short years later, the Republicans found themselves winning again! After the aggressive overreach of the Left with the inaptly named Affordable Care Act, the conservative grass roots had had enough. And so 2010 was the year of the Tea Party Republicans.

Finally, sanity was to be restored. Or so the voting public thought.

But then something funny happened. Instead of embracing the new Tea Party conservative populists, the GOP congressional leadership ignored, annexed, and stymied whomever it could from the so-called “Tea Party Caucus.” In effect, the Republicans in Congress did the Democrats’ dirty work! Rather than recognizing the inherent advantages that the new wave of populism gave the GOP or building on this new momentum going into 2012, the Washington Republican leadership opted to defend their status as the privileged minority. They patted the people on their pretty little heads, in other words.

Things got so bad that the GOP actively campaigned against the Tea Party. In fact, in 2012, rather than pushing forward vibrant candidates with new ideas, the GOP coalesced behind Mitt Romney. But, it was very evident early on that the base of the party did not want him. This fact, more than anything, explains why the 2012 primaries were so contentious.

The election of 2012 should have been the bumper harvest year for the Tea Party. It wasn’t. The Republican Establishment gave Obama another four years, all so they could enjoy continuing being the privileged minority in Washington. In those four years, American relations with much of the rest of the world soured to such a point that few any longer believed in the staying power of the United States. Essentially, we experienced our own version of Japan’s “Lost Generation” economically. Oh, and, thanks to Republican weakness, in many states, little boys can now use the girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms.

Throughout this period, the Republicans in Congress were fighting—ot so they alleged—a holding action against the Left. Their “fight” did not inspire fear on the Left, or even alarm. Critical issues were allowed to wither on the vine. The Republicans punted on overturning Obamacare. They rationalized lapses in judgment on key foreign policy issues. Most Republicans shrugged when the Obama Administration imposed new regulation upon new regulation. The GOP did this, all while lecturing the voters that, if only they were given not just the House, but also the Senate, they could stop the bleeding.

So, in 2014, the Tea Party activists heard these cries and dutifully gave them the Senate. And yet in 2015, the GOP allowed for the most aggressive and unpopular overreach yet from the Obama executive branch. It was at this time, that the Obama Administration issued its spate of unlawful executive orders granting amnesty to many illegal immigrants. Many constitutional scholars—from both the Left and the Right—insisted that this overreach was a potentially impeachable offense.

Fact is, the Republicans did not have the numbers they needed to win votes on key pieces of legislation. Yet, the GOP still could have tried governing. They could have put the legislative onus on the Democrats. The Republicans could have painted a picture showing that it was the Democrats who really are the “party of no.”

The same Republicans who resisted governing during their time as the opposition, were the ones who looked down their noses at Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Indeed, many of these Republican leaders remain in Congress today. With the exception of the top of the ticket loss in 2012 (though despite that loss, Republicans still made significant gains in Congress, and at the state and local levels), the last 6 years has been the tale of a Republican ascendancy. Yet, the Republican leadership either didn’t recognize (or care to recognize) this fact. They continued to act as though they were as powerless as they were in 2009!

Now, with the Trump Administration underway, some of the same Republicans who opposed or offered only the most lukewarm of endorsements for Trump are entrusted with enacting his agenda for making America great again. This is a dangerous prospect. In his first week in office, Trump demonstrated his willingness to fulfil every one of his campaign promises. He has done this with the copious (yet judicious) use of executive orders—in most cases merely reversing Obama usurpations of power by restoring that power to the branches the people have entrusted it in the Constitution. But, these are short-term solutions. Trump will need and, because he respects the separation of powers, he will want Congress to enact some of his more ambitious plans.

Since the inauguration, the GOP has (with some notable exceptions) stood firm behind Trump’s cabinet picks. Despite this I remain skeptical of their ability to remain committed to the Trump cause. Confirming cabinet picks is a matter of form in Congress. Congress is obsessed with legacy and pro-forma tradition even more than an institution like Yale University. Impinge on the time-honored tradition of confirming cabinet picks, and you risk invoking the measured wrath of even the stodgiest country club Republican.

Where it really matters, though, Republicans are waffling.  A handful of them in Congress are fretting over the “process” that Trump used to temporarily ban so-called “refugees” from seven countries. Lamenting the improper process of a bureaucratic decision is one of the ways that those aforementioned country club Republicans turn on their own leaders.

As the Trump Administration continues to do what no other Republican leader has done in decades (i.e., push back against the Left), several of those weak sister Republicans are fading into the shadows. They are likely waiting to pounce again when Trump is weak. For now, Donald Trump is keeping his raucous coalition together through sheer, inimitable will.

But for how long?

It is evident that most Republican leaders are itching to abandon him at the first sign of popular Leftist resistance. In fact, I believe that a major objective of the ongoing “days of rage” protests is to scare the weaker GOP members into abandoning Trump. The Left wants to cleave enough Republicans away from Trump in order to cobble together the votes they will need to stop President Trump’s agenda. The Democrats don’t have the numbers to do this on their own. So, they’re hoping for some Never Trump Republicans to come along.

The only thing that will keep the GOP Establishment in line will be success. The Trump team cannot stop its open resistance to the legacy left-leaning media. President Trump has to continue with his boldness. He can brook no compromise with the Left; he will only stem the Left through continued brashness. If Trump continues being Trump, he will hold together his fragile coalition in Washington. If the GOP senses that Trump is not waffling—if they also know that enough of their voters are behind Trump (which, they are)—then Trump will continue winning.

For Donald Trump and his relationship with Congress to remain effective, essentially, nothing will hold them together like success. And, my friends, success is contagious: it breeds more success. That’s good for you and me. It means more legislation protecting us, and more victories for the Right over the next several years. More victories over a protracted time, means a permanently weakened Left.

That’s what I call Making America Great Again.