Last Thursday, the GOP-controlled Senate passed an appropriations bill funding the most problematic departments of government in a way that is indistinguishable from the sort of bill that would pass under a Democrat Senate. Indeed, every Senate Democrat supported it, while only six Republicans opposed it (several more were absent).
Rather than spending their August recess forcing major votes on immigration, national security, and terrorism and holding marathon late-night sessions to force confirmation of more Trump nominees, senators passed a funding bill for the Labor Department, Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education that increased spending from even the omnibus levels. As we warned a few weeks ago, it spends tens of billions more than Trump requested on each department. Also, they had the temerity to tie funding of controversial programs within these departments to the military in the same bill.
As we all know, HHS is the primary funder of abortions among the government departments, and this bill funded Planned Parenthood. Now, most senators will hide behind the fact that they voted (all but Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins) for Rand Paul’s amendment to defund Planned Parenthood. Don’t buy the excuses. Once Paul’s amendment was defeated, they should have opposed final passage of the bill. Yet 40 Republicans went on to vote for the final bill with the funding. As an aside, phony “pro-life Democrat” Joe Manchin not only voted for final passage but against Paul’s standalone amendment.
This was also the first time since the inception of Obamacare that Republicans directly funded every iota of Obamacare through a specific HHS appropriations bill, aside from the general “catch-all” continuing resolutions and omnibus bills. That Republicans love Obamacare (and always have) is not surprising, because on Friday, 10 Republican senators introduced legislation protecting the core mandates of Obamacare. Some of them are very prominent: Thom Tillis, Lamar Alexander, Charles E. Grassley, Dean Heller, Bill Cassidy, Lisa Murkowski, Joni Ernst, Lindsey Graham, John Barrasso, and Roger Wicker.
Then there is immigration. While they declined to pass a strong DHS funding bill and tie it to the military, senators instead funded HHS, which contains the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is wholly responsible for the invasion by Central Americans and all the gangs and drugs brought in since 2014. This was the day after it was discovered that Mollie Tibbetts was murdered, allegedly by a Mexican illegal who likely came over as a teenager during Obama’s tenure. The ORR is violating the law every day by resettling scores of violent young males from Central America. Yet nobody even raised any concerns or tried to attach policy riders blocking the resettlement of these individuals, many of whom will likely eventually become citizens.
Why even have congressional elections when the most important bills passed in the Senate are completely indistinguishable from those passed when Democrats officially control the chamber? No, adding a few more Republicans to the mix will not change the equation.
And it gets worse. We lack any solid stars headed into the midterm elections, and now Trump is endorsing one of the RINOs who voted for this bill from one of the most conservative states. Cindy Hyde-Smith was a Democrat for most of her life until Governor Phil Bryant appointed her earlier this year to fill out the term of Thad Cochran. Rather than pressuring the governor to heal the party and appoint Chris McDaniel, who really won the Republican vote against Cochran last time, Trump has now endorsed Hyde-Smith, who is not even a real incumbent. So, he is willing to endorse RINOs like Martha Roby even when they criticize him, but he won’t merely stay neutral when MAGA candidates challenge RINOs who are notional incumbents. How in the world will he change anything in the Senate he so bitterly decries if he cuts the legs out from under his very supporters who are trying to get him reinforcements?
Conservatives need to establish avenues of communication with the president in order to ensure that his powerful presence in primaries is used to help, not hurt, the cause. Moreover, conservatives need to make the budget veto the number-one priority of the president for the coming month. Obviously, the presidency is worthless if Trump doesn’t threaten to veto the upcoming budget bills and leverage the veto for his immigration priorities. But aside from the veto and the Senate, there is a third player here – the House of Representatives. Rather than merely having a choice of vetoing a bad bill from the Senate, the president should demand that House leaders pass a good spending bill with his priorities and then jam the Senate with it, while the president uses his bully pulpit to shame the Senate into action.
However, none of this will happen unless the president threatens McCarthy’s leadership and promises to support Jim Jordan as House leader.
The moral of the story? Conservative policy and media figures need to move beyond the exclusive reactionary focus to the soap opera and controversies surrounding Trump’s personality and focus proactively on elections, legislation, and policy goals. When our message is conveyed to the president, he agrees with it more often than not. For example, when a few law enforcement groups and Sen. Tom Cotton gave the president the truth about the jailbreak bill – that it will force the release of dangerous drug traffickers – he agreed to scuttle the bill. We need more of this. And the first place to start is with the upcoming budget deadline.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.