The Weekly Watchman: Congress recesses, but critical battles await

· August 7, 2018  
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Capitol building in sepia
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The House outlook

The House of Representatives remains in recess and will not be returning (short of an emergency) until September 4 following Labor Day weekend. As members travel throughout their districts, key policy issues such as border security continue to drive the discussion among the electorate.

As we discussed last week, the House failed to end its July session on a high note. Instead of attempting to unify the conservative base around border security or cutting spending, legislators instead opted to extend the $25 billion subsidy-ridden moral hazard known as the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) without so much as a debate.

And as Conservative Review’s Daniel Horowitz pointed out in a recent column, the House Committee on Appropriations also actively refused to adopt the administration’s guidance on what constitutes “credible fear” for asylum seekers. The administration is rightly trying to restrict “credible fear” to evidence of government-sanctioned persecution against a group predicated on their religious beliefs, political views, race, nationality, or social status. But the House just opened this up to anyone fearful of violence, potentially for any reason. This opens the floodgates for false asylum seekers illegally entering our country.

The chairman of the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., voted with Democrats to block the administration’s correct definition of “credible fear” for asylum seekers. This definition is the centerpiece of the administration’s efforts to reform the asylum process to better protect Americans and to better help those who truly are in danger from their government.

The DHS appropriations bill also fails to defund sanctuary cities, expands the number of visas granted to low-skilled workers, and prevents the deportation of those who benefitted from President Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty under DACA.

While Rep. Yoder’s constituents may not approve of his apparent open-borders fetish, rest assured that the Swamp and the lobbyists who fill his campaign coffers absolutely love it. It’s clear whose approval matters most to him.

Sadly, the priority of most Republicans is to maintain the status quo and avoid politically “risky” actions, as defined by the media and coastal elites, such as temporary government slowdowns — even though the Republican base repeatedly sent them to Washington explicitly to advance liberty and defend American sovereignty.

Keeping promises

When the House returns in September, Republicans will face a stark choice: Keep their promises to their constituents on border security and run the risk of a temporary lapse in government funding or cave to progressive Democrats who want to abolish ICE and keep the cartels in control of our southern border.

There’s no way that the House will pass all appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year. This means that a continuing resolution to fund the government is all but inevitable, and that means that the media will be talking about a government shutdown throughout most of September.

Will House Republicans kick the can down the road once again out of fear that voters will punish them for a lapse in government funding? Or will House Republicans finally realize that energizing conservative voters is a better idea?

If the blue wave does hit in November, then the continuing resolution is the last, best chance Republicans have to keep their promise to secure the southern border. Which direction they decide to go depends much on what they hear from their constituents over the month of August.

The Senate outlook

The Senate is also out this week and part of next week, officially putting to rest the notion that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would keep senators in session for the whole August recess. The Senate is expected to return on August 15 to resume consideration of two judicial nominations for the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Circuit has jurisdiction over South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. Former President Barack Obama shifted the balance of this court decidedly to the left with six appointees to the Fourth during his eight years in office.

The first judicial nominee, Marvin Quattlebaum Jr., was already appointed by the Trump administration to serve as a district court judge in South Carolina. He was confirmed overwhelmingly back in March to his current position.

The second nominee, Julius Richardson, is expected to be confirmed on the Senate floor. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney in South Carolina and prosecuted Dylann Roof for the mass murders committed at a predominantly black church in Charleston in 2015.

Moderate Republicans continue undermining conservatives

Last week, the Senate successfully confirmed Judge Britt Grant to the Eleventh Circuit despite the protests of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s, D-N.Y. Three red-state Democrats up for re-election joined all Republicans in confirming her — Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Look for vulnerable red-state Democrats to continue this pattern when it comes to judicial nominees — including Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

We also mentioned that Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had filed an amendment to the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill to prohibit the District of Columbia from implementing an Obamacare-style individual mandate. The amendment was identical to the one offered by Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., that successfully passed the House.

Senator Cruz’s amendment made it to the floor, but was tabled (set aside from consideration) in a 54-44 vote. Five Republicans voted with every Democrat to essentially defeat the Cruz amendment, including Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who, despite what know-nothing “comedian” Jimmy Kimmel says, actually thinks the Obamacare approach to health care is just fine.

The Labor-HHS-DoD appropriations bill

The Senate is likely to continue processing the president’s nominees — both judicial and administrative — throughout August. Rumors continue to circulate that next week, the Senate will also move to debate an appropriations minibus to fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Defense.

As background, the Labor-HHS bill has been one of the more contentious of the twelve appropriations bills over the past decade or so. Republicans usually dread even putting the measure on the floor because of the Obamacare schism in the conference: A vote for the HHS portion of the bill has been by default a vote for Obamacare.

That stated, if this bill does come to the floor, it means Republicans will have yet another opportunity to offer amendments to defund Obamacare, defund Planned Parenthood, and prevent any taxpayer-funded insurance bailouts.

In a sane universe, a GOP-controlled Congress, with a Republican president in the White House, would include such policy provisions in the base version of its bill instead of having to rely on potential conservative amendments, but at this point, such Swamp shenanigans are hardly surprising. And even less surprising? Tying the Labor-HHS funding to Department of Defense funding.

Indeed, a cynical person might view this as leadership attempting to provide cover for Republicans to vote in favor of the bill so that they can say, “No, we voted to fund the troops! We didn’t vote to fund Obamacare!”

Nah. That couldn’t possibly be the reason…

Liberty outlook

Summary: Both the House and Senate are out this week. That means neither chamber can continue spending money we don’t have, reneging on their promises to their constituents, or advancing the cause of progressives out of sheer desperation. That puts this week’s liberty outlook at: Code green.

Maybe just stay home, Congress. Freedom seems to be more secure when you do.


The Weekly Watchman

Welcome to the Weekly Watchman, a regular series at Conservative Review where we highlight and analyze legislation pending on the House and Senate floors so that you know exactly what your representatives are voting on — and the impact those votes will have on your freedom.

The truth is that every single vote cast in Congress either advances liberty or diminishes it. And in all the noise on social media and 24/7 cable news chaos, it can be difficult to keep track of what is really happening on Capitol Hill and what it means for you and your family.

Patrick Henry once stated, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”


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Author: Drew White

Drew White spent three years at Heritage Action for America as a legislative strategist covering domestic policy issues. He then served as Sen. Ted Cruz’s domestic policy adviser for two years, working on issues including Obamacare repeal, educational freedom, elimination of federal agencies and departments, and defunding Planned Parenthood. Most recently, he served as senior federal policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He currently resides in Austin, Texas, with his wife, son, and golden retriever, happily clinging to his guns and religion.