The Weekly Watchman: Winning the lame duck

· October 30, 2018  
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The House outlook

The House of Representatives remains in recess until after next week’s election. We are now just one week away from Election Day. As mentioned last week, there are several stalwart conservatives in the House who remain in the political fight of their lives, including House Freedom Caucus members Dave Brat, R-Va., Scott Perry, R-Penn., and Ted Budd, R-N.C.

The latest Cook Political Report continues to show that the House of Representatives is likely to flip to Democrat control, although a handful of races have begun to tighten in favor of the GOP.

Nevertheless, because House Republicans — and the White House — caved on having an immigration battle before the end of the fiscal year, the political leverage of a potential temporary government shutdown that would focus the public’s attention on the stakes of the election was largely abandoned.

Imagine if congressional Republicans had simply held the line in September. With the “migrant caravan” invasion now on America’s doorstep — and a continued onslaught of criminal illegal violence plaguing far too many communities — the contrast between open-borders Democrats who want to abolish ICE and border security hawks in the Republican party would have set the terms of next week’s election.

Instead, the lame-duck session leaves Republicans in a weaker political position. However, there is a strategy that could lead to success.

Scope of the fight

When Congress returns on November 13, the leaders of the House Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee must immediately come together and agree to set the parameters for the fight on the continuing resolution for a border security and immigration victory. These parameters for the lame duck should be sent, in a public letter, to House leadership:

  • No legislation should be brought to the floor before addressing the border crisis and our broken immigration policies. This means no votes on “criminal justice reform,” the food and farm welfare conference report, or additional spending bills. If such bills move forward before DHS funding, they will be opposed.
  • The Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill must include the following provisions: $5 billion in immediate one-year border wall funding (with offsets), defunding of all federal grants for states, counties, cities, and localities in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and policy riders that end chain migration and ensure a proper interpretation of credible fear in asylum seekers.
  • The Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill must not include perverse incentives to increase illegal immigration such as allowing the Office of Refugee Resettlement to accept donations from private groups for the “well-being” of Central American asylum seekers.
  • A stand-alone floor vote on the Fund and Complete the Border Wall Act (H.R. 6657), introduced by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., must be included as part of the border security debate. The key feature of this bill is that it would impose a five percent remittance fee on all outbound international remittances, to be put in a Treasury fund to both build the wall and increase resources for the U.S. Border Patrol. As Dan Cadman at the Center for Immigration Studies stated, the bill should also add ICE as a beneficiary of these fees.
  • A stand-alone floor vote on the INA Jurisdiction Act of 2018 (H.R. 5648), introduced by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, must be included as part of the border security debate. Rogue district court judges are complicit in the destruction of our sovereignty and the ever-increasing body count of American citizens due to criminal illegal aliens. It’s time Congress used its Article I authority to put an end to the madness.
  • The House should stay in session until it has passed a strong DHS appropriations bill and sent it over to the Senate.

Success would be contingent on Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., working together to hold the line. They must stay united and focused. And conservatives — both on the outside and as engaged constituents — would need to stay engaged and give them the public support needed to accomplish the task.

Otherwise, the “lame duck” session is already shaping up to be a catastrophe. Leadership has agreed to resolve the conference report for the $1 trillion food and farm welfare bill. And according to staff for Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., differences are “less partisan and more regional.” Naturally.

A nation doesn’t find itself nearly $22 trillion in debt without both parties working together to grow government and screw over the citizenry. The “farm” bill is a case in point for why we’re accelerating toward a debt crisis.

Do not blink, House conservatives. And do not accept “No” for an answer from an impotent leadership with no vision and no strategy, who has continually put rank-and-file members in untenable positions.

The Senate outlook: Playing hardball

The Senate is expected to return on November 13 following the elections. While prospects in the House appear bleaker for the GOP, things in the Senate are trending more favorably. New polls have GOP Missouri Senate candidate Josh Hawley inching ahead of incumbent Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill. And Republican businessman Mike Braun has also begun to move ahead of incumbent Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana.

As mentioned last week, it’s important for conservatives to lower their expectations about what this means in the short and long term. It remains to be seen just how strong both Hawley and Braun are as conservatives. And Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who is going to defeat incumbent Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, has an abysmal voting record. Expect him to join the ranks of Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

Stronger candidates, like Matt Rosendale, who is challenging Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is trying to unseat Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., continue to have uphill battles.

All of this portends a lame duck that very likely could go sideways. By far the biggest policy threat in the Senate is the prospect of the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill coming forward. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has stated that if the votes are there, he’ll bring legislation to the floor.

This is all the more reason for House Republicans to fight like hell on the continuing resolution to fund the Department of Homeland Security. The stronger House Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee members fight to build the wall, defund sanctuary cities, enact asylum reform, and end chain migration, the more leverage they will have in fending off squishy Senate Republicans from making bad bipartisan compromises on other pieces of legislation.

When the Senate returns, it will take up a vote on Michelle Bowman to serve as a member of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve and likely begin negotiating on the conference report of the $1 trillion food and farm welfare bill. But the continuing resolution funding the Department of Homeland Security, which expires on December 6, will be the priority legislative battle.

As such, strong law-and-order members like Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., should set the parameters of the “criminal justice reform” debate in the Senate with that in mind. No Republican, even those who support criminal justice reform, should agree to take a vote until the House has passed a strong border security bill — with funding for the wall, defunding of sanctuary cities, and policy riders on asylum reform attached — and Senate Democrats have pledged to support such a measure.

In fact, if Senate Democrats refuse to help secure the border during the lame-duck session (which is likely), Republicans must unify ahead of their likely increased majority in the Senate and bring down any bipartisan criminal justice reform measure. And then they should proceed to keep the Senate in session to confirm every single one of the president’s outstanding judicial nominees.

The truth is that over a quarter of all federal inmates are criminal illegal aliens. And the majority of federal inmates are in prison for violent offenses, despite protestations to the contrary.

If the GOP, and conservatives within its ranks, wants to build a winning agenda going into the 116th Congress, Republicans must secure immigration policy wins in the lame duck as part of a “tough on crime” initiative to win back suburban voters. Passing jailbreak legislation would neuter the GOP Senate majority before the start of the next Congress. And it would do so at a moment when many rank-and-file voters appear to be giving Republicans another chance in the aftermath of the Kavanaugh confirmation battle.

To quote Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., “Boy, y’all want power. God, I hope you never get it!” It’s time for GOP senators to show that same fire in the belly when it comes to advancing conservative policy. They should not give progressives in the Senate— especially those who turned the Kavanaugh hearings into a circus — the power they crave. Make them capitulate and meet the policy demands that will secure our border, safeguard our communities, protect American citizens, and defend our sovereignty first.

That is, after all, their constitutional duty.

Liberty outlook

Summary: Both chambers are in recess through the November elections. This means that neither legislative body can further infringe on our liberties, increase our national debt, or advance progressive priorities for at least another three weeks. Therefore, this week’s congressional Liberty Outlook remains: Code green.


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 and golden retriever, happily clinging to his guns and religion.