The Phoniness of Republican Moderation

Three days into the new administration, here is all you need to know about whether Republicans will indeed stand up to Donald Trump:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 11-10 along party lines to recommend Rex Tillerson’s confirmation as secretary of state. The 11 included Marco Rubio, the former and probably future presidential candidate from Florida, who attacked the former ExxonMobil chief executive because he “would pursue a foreign policy of deal-making at the expense of traditional alliances and at the expense of the defense of human rights and of democracy.” But he voted for Tillerson. He began a Facebook post by saying, “I believe the president is entitled to significant deference when it comes to his choices for the cabinet.” But not when it comes to the size of his hands.

Two Republican senators have proposed an alternative to Obamacare: letting states keep it and pay for it if they want it. This is the handiwork of Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, a physician who apparently forgot that the Hippocratic Oath says to “do no harm,” and Maine’s Susan Collins, who has spent her entire Senate career claiming to be a moderate but somehow voting with the GOP caucus on almost every major issue, especially related to Obamacare, throughout the past eight years. For most of those eight years, Republicans tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act and claimed to be working on a replacement. Obviously, they still haven’t come up with anything.

During the hearing on Betsy DeVos’s appointment as secretary of education, committee chair Lamar Alexander wouldn’t allow Democrats time for more questions—because of her obvious incompetence, and despite Alexander having been a secretary of education and thus knowing how unqualified she is, and despite announcing with great fanfare six years ago that he was surrendering a Senate leadership post because “I want to do more to make the Senate a more effective institution so that it can deal better with serious issues” and concentrate more on seeking bipartisan consensus on the issues. No evidence exists that he ever found any, or looked.

Party loyalty does matter in Congress, and Democrats certainly benefited from it. Consider that when Obamacare was first wending its way through the Senate, Collins’s then-Maine colleague, Olympia Snowe, was on the six-member congressional committee working on the legislation. Once upon a time, Maine had a Republican woman senator, Margaret Chase Smith, and she appears to have been the last woman of conscience Maine sent to the Senate.

Democrats had courted Snowe. Obama, often accused by critics of not deigning to work with Congress, met with her numerous times, and committee chair Max Baucus of Montana paid great deference to her demands. She wound up upset with then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, feeling that he had excluded her from the final process. But as one inside account noted, “even those within the administration who had defended the pursuit of Snowe had grown weary of negotiating with her.

During the Finance markup, Baucus had addressed nearly every one of her concerns, but he didn’t learn until the day of the vote that she would support the bill. Obama and Reid had gone through her latest list—and were amenable to most of it. But, again, Snowe wouldn’t commit. Had Reid waited, many say, he’d still be waiting now.” Reid later told The New York Times, “As I look back it was a waste of time dealing with her, because she had no intention of ever working anything out.” In the end, the supposedly moderate Snowe and Collins went with their party on health care reform. The number of times they or Alexander broke with their caucus to support the Obama administration could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Reid learned his lesson. Over time, Obama learned his. Some Republicans may occasionally split with the administration to save their political hides (as Democrats do, too). But they will back their president with more fervor than Democrats have backed theirs, and they will ignore good public policy in the process. Millions of women and some male allies showed Saturday that they aren’t going to just sit around. Democrats in Congress should take a page from them.

Bookmark and Share

About Michael Green

Michael Green is an associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he teaches U.S. history. His specialties include the Civil War era, political history, and western history, especially Nevada and Las Vegas. He is a former newspaper reporter and editor who writes columns for Vegas Seven and Nevada's Washington Watch, as well as a history feature, Nevada Yesterdays, for Nevada Public Radio. He serves on the boards of The Mob Museum, the Institute for a Progressive Nevada, Preserve Nevada, and the Nevada Center for Civic Engagement.
Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.