Tag Archives: US Senate

O’Rourke hopes to defy the odds

It looks as though my Golden Triangle friend has it right regarding Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke’s strategy he hopes will produce a victory over Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

My friend believes O’Rourke’s 254-county strategy is going to shore up his Democratic-leaning urban base in the big cities and will cut into Cruz’s expected victory margin in the rural counties.

O’Rourke making a return to the Panhandle

There you have it. I mean, O’Rourke keeps showing up for town hall meetings in the Texas Panhandle, which arguably is “ground zero” of the Texas Republican political movement.

The Texas Tribune’s analysis of the O’Rourke strategy suggests the El Paso congressman is thinking that way, too.

As the Texas Tribune reports: Over the last 15 months, O’Rourke’s county-by-county driving tour has taken him all over the state, from his hometown of El Paso on the Mexican border to Cooke County in the north, where he held a town hall on Saturday afternoon.

“Here we are in Gainesville, which, as the crow flies, might be the farthest point you can get from El Paso,” he said to laughter from a packed house in the historic Santa Fe train depot.

The tour represents more than just an expansive retail campaign across the largest state in mainland America. It also marks a dramatic deviation from the political playbook employed by the majority of Texas Democrats over the last two decades.

Do I want O’Rourke’s strategy to work? Yes, I do. You know what already.

The Cruz Missile has done damn little for the state since he was elected in 2012, except show Texans how he is able to have his voice heard above the partisan din that erupts on Capitol Hill.

My question of the moment deals with whether O’Rourke will be able to become more of an advocate for the state and less of an advocate for himself.

I have given up on Cruz. O’Rourke at least presents the potential of a different approach to legislating.

Recalling a great discussion among friends

This video is among my all-time favorite public television news broadcasts. It features a PBS NewsHour discussion with the late U.S. Sens. George McGovern and Barry Goldwater.

A liberal (McGovern) and a conservative (Goldwater) talked political differences between them and sought to put the 1988 presidential campaign into some sort of civil and proper perspective.

The moderator was Jim Lehrer, a fellow whose acquaintance I made while I was working in Beaumont many years ago. More on that perhaps at another time.

What Sens. McGovern and Goldwater sought to do in this discussion is delineate the differences between their respective philosophies. What is so remarkable is how much common ground these two old men had found and how they believed they found it when they served together in the U.S. Senate.

How did they manage such commonality? Well, they didn’t talk about it in their PBS interview, but I have a theory.

Their common respect was forged in their common history and their shared sacrifice during a time of dire peril for the United States.

McGovern and Goldwater served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. They both served heroically during that conflict. They brought their commonality together when they ended up in the Senate together. McGovern represented South Dakota, Goldwater represented Arizona.

They were far from the only two men of disparate philosophies to forge friendships in the Congress during their time together. I think often of how Sen. Bob Dole developed a unbreakable bond with Sen. Daniel Inouye; Dole is a Kansas conservative, Inouye was a Hawaii liberal. They, too, became brothers in arms in World War II, both suffering grievous battlefield injuries and going through rehab together. Their common suffering became their bond and it overrode whatever political differences they had while serving in the Senate.

Vietnam produced similar friendships that transcended partisan politics. I’ll cite two examples: Sens. John McCain and John Kerry both served with valor and distinction during the Vietnam War. McCain is a Republican; Kerry is a Democrat. They both worked in tandem to allow the United States and Vietnam to establish diplomatic ties long after the end of that terrible and divisive conflict.

These men all knew the meaning of sacrifice for the sake of the country they all loved.

As George McGovern told Barry Goldwater during that 15-minute PBS discussion, they have much more in common now than they did in the old days. Yes, but the common experience they brought with them to their shared public service taught them to respect the other’s point of view, that the “enemy” didn’t sit in the same legislative chamber.

Federal courts aren’t ‘political’? Guess again

The nation’s founders had the right idea when they created a Constitution that called for lifetime appointments of federal judges.

Part of their intent was to take politics out of the judicial system. Sadly, that intent has been lost. It’s gone. The federal bench is, um, highly political.

Case in point: U.S. Senate Republicans today filled a federal judgeship they kept empty for the past six years during the Obama administration. They voted 49-46 — along party lines — to seat Michael Brennan on the Seventh U.S. Court of Appeals. President Obama had nominated Victoria Nourse to that bench in 2010, but it was held up by Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (pictured above), who exercised a Senate rule that allows a home-state senator to block anyone he or she chooses; Nourse pulled her nomination in 2012.

Indeed, one of the consequences of our federal elections is the federal judiciary and who gets seated. Presidential elections are particularly consequential in that regard. Presidents have the power to set judicial courses for generations through their appointment powers. You’d better believe, too, that politics matters when the Senate considers who to confirm or reject when they exercise their “advise and consent” authority.

Are the federal courts more political than, say, state courts? Hardly. In Texas, we elect judges on partisan ballots. Judicial philosophy or legal credentials take a back seat to which party under which the candidate is running, or so it appears at times in Texas.

The founders sought when they were creating a new nation to deliver a system of justice that would be free of political pressure. I only wish their dream would have come true. More than two centuries later, we hear laypeople/politicians second-guessing judicial rulings — especially when they lack any base of knowledge of the law upon judges make their decision.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way when the nation’s founders were building a nation “of laws, not of men.”

Rep. O’Rourke proposes debate-a-thon with Sen. Cruz

Six debates? Really? Does Beto O’Rourke really think Ted Cruz is going to agree to that?

Well, the Democratic challenger has pitched a serious offer to the Republican incumbent as the race for Cruz’s U.S. Senate seat starts to heat up.

The most fascinating aspect of O’Rourke’s challenge is that he wants two of those debates to be in Spanish, a language in which O’Rourke is fluent, but which Cruz reportedly is not.

O’Rourke wants to succeed Cruz in the Senate. He wants to take his case across Texas. My hope would be that one of those six debates would occur in the Texas Panhandle. Hey, Amarillo has plenty of suitable venues for such an event: Amarillo Little Theater; Amarillo College; Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts; Civic Center Grand Plaza Ballroom.

The reality is that the Cruz Missile isn’t likely to agree to six debates, even though he is known as a master debater. He once served as Texas solicitor general, which enabled him to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court; I consider that a pretty impressive venue.

O’Rourke’s challenge seems to indicate the seriousness of his effort to unseat Cruz, who is ready for the fight that lies ahead, according to the Texas Tribune: “Sen. Cruz has said he’s looking forward to debates,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said in a statement. “We are considering all possibilities in front of us and will be working with potential hosts and the O’Rourke campaign to determine the best platforms available so that Texans from all corners of the state can hear from the candidates directly about their views for Texas’ future.”

The Tribune also reports that a Spanish-language debate is unlikely: Regardless of what the campaigns ultimately agree to, debates in Spanish between the candidates seem unlikely. While O’Rourke is fluent in the language, Cruz is not known as a proficient speaker. 

Recent political polling puts the race as being too close to call. O’Rourke has spent a great deal of time stumping in rural Texas, far from the state’s pockets of progressive voter blocs. Cruz no doubt is gathering up his own war chest of campaign cash and will take the challenger on, face to face.

That all said, I am pulling for O’Rourke to win. I want him to represent this state in the U.S. Senate. He appears at first blush to be far more interested in our needs than in his own ambition.

Six debates between O’Rourke and Cruz? I hope they all occur. I will not bet the mortgage that they will.

Vote your ‘conscience’ or that of the voters?

I’ve stated already my admiration for U.S. Sen. John McCain, who’s battling a life-threatening illness while continuing to serve the Arizona voters who have elected him.

That said, I want to offer a word of caution to Sen. McCain and other public servants who might want to follow his lead.

He says that his illness allows him to “vote my conscience” rather than adhere to the wishes of the president or even other fellow Republican Party congressional leaders.

Fine. I get it. Let’s remember that Sen. McCain serves in a “representative form of government,” which means he works at the behest of his constituents. Thus, he is not entirely free to vote his “conscience” if his conscience is at odds with what his constituents want from him.

There is plenty of talk these days about whether Sen. McCain is free to pursue a voting track that enables him to come down with a purer vote of conscience. He has written a book in which he trashes Donald J. Trump’s leadership as president. He says in his book that the brain cancer that ravages him gives him a stronger voice to oppose the president’s policies.

Is that what his constituents want?

I ask that question knowing that McCain is far from the first politician who occasionally ignores the cadence that’s being called among the voter bloc that elected him. Is that a prudent course? Is that keeping faith with the oath he took to represent the wishes of the people who have a vested interest in all decisions he makes as one who writes federal laws?

McCain’s declaration causes me great conflict. I want him to oppose the president, to vote his “conscience” where it’s appropriate. Then again, I do not live in Arizona, the state he represents in the U.S. Senate. I have the luxury of cheering his decision to vote his conscience.

Is it in the interests of his bosses, the voters who sent him to the high office he occupies?

Tread carefully, Sen. McCain. By all means, I am praying for your return to good health.

Trump makes laughable demand for resignation

Jon Tester is doing his job as a U.S. senator.

The Montana Democrat spoke out against Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. As the ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Tester said Dr. Ronny Jackson — the White House physician — was unfit to lead the VA.

Sen. Tester based his judgment on allegations leveled by at least 20 members of the military, who accused Jackson of a number of misdeeds: over prescribing of medication; instigating a hostile work environment; drinking on the job.

Jackson pulled his name out of consideration for the VA job.

What, then, does the president do? He calls for Tester’s resignation from the Senate.

Let’s be clear. Sen. Tester did not conduct himself improperly. There isn’t a hint of malfeasance. No fraud. No scandal. No funny business, hanky-panky, or scandalous conduct.

All the man has done is his job as a United States senator, which he takes seriously enough to incur the unbridled — and unhinged — wrath of a president who takes himself far more seriously than the high office to which he was elected.

Trump’s tirade via Twitter against Tester provides yet another example of how the president behaves, how his mind works and how this man doesn’t respect the dignity of his office.

If anyone should consider resigning, to my mind it’s Donald Trump!

Trump wants Sen. Tester to quit because … ?

I’ve said this before and I will keep saying it for as long as I damn well please … but Donald J. Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing or saying.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., led the U.S. Senate criticism of Dr. Ronny Jackson, the president’s nominee to become secretary of veterans affairs. Allegations surfaced from within the military that Jackson — a Navy admiral — enabled a hostile work environment, that he over-prescribed medication and drank on the job.

Tester called on Jackson — the White House physician — to withdraw his nomination. Dr. Jackson did this week. He pulled out, calling the allegations false and saying they had become a “distraction.”

Fine. Hit the road, Doc. Don’t let the door hit you in the … whatever.

The president, though, once again talked way past the sale by saying Tester should resign his Senate seat. Why? Well, because he was overly harsh in his criticism of Dr. Jackson. Tester, though, is far from the only senator to say Jackson shouldn’t serve as head of the VA. A number of, um, Republicans joined that anti-Jackson chorus, too. Is the GOP president going to ask any or all of them to quit? Of course he won’t. That’s because he suffers from selective indignation.

As for Trump’s call for Tester to quit, it is just so much more malarkey coming from the mouth of the guy whose White House staff failed miserably in vetting Dr. Jackson. All they had to ask him was: Is there anything in your background, given the current climate in Washington, that should cause us any concern?

They didn’t. He did. He’s gone. Tester — and others — called him out.

Mr. President, just go find another VA secretary and this time, be sure he or she is free of the baggage that scuttled Admiral Jackson’s nomination.

Secretary Pompeo gets to work

Mike Pompeo’s nomination to be secretary of state cleared the Senate committee vote he needed by the narrowest of margins. It was a single vote.

Then the full U.S. Senate voted today to confirm him. The vote was 57-42; Republican John McCain was absent and unable to vote.

What does this mean for the new secretary? The way I see it, it means he has little bipartisan backing to tackle the difficult tasks of forging a foreign policy that commands the attention and respect of our nation’s allies and, yes, its foes.

Secretaries of state traditionally get huge margins. The only recent secretary of state to be confirmed by a margin comparable to the one that Pompeo earned was, interestingly, Donald J. Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

The Associated Press reported that every secretary of state dating back to the Carter administration had received at least 85 Senate votes for confirmation.

Why is this important? Foreign policy shouldn’t fall along partisan lines. It shouldn’t reflect the deep divisions within our nation’s partisan political machinery. The United States should speak with a single voice when it deals with foreign policy. That’s long been a tradition. Sadly, that longstanding practice now appears to be buried under the deep and bitter partisan divisions.

It reflects the chasm that separates Republicans and Democrats. It is unhealthy in the extreme, particularly since Secretary Pompeo now must take the lead on preparation for the unprecedented summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, the mercurial leader of North Korea.

Pompeo and Kim already have met. No one has reported precisely how that first meeting — conducted under the cover of secrecy — produced, other than the president saying something about Pompeo and Kim getting “along well.”

The Senate vote will stand, though, as a message that the new secretary of state doesn’t have the bipartisan support he needs to move forward as the prime spokesman for our foreign policy apparatus.

My hope is that he earns it.

Pompeo to become diplomat with thin backing

Mike Pompeo is likely to be confirmed as the nation’s next secretary of state, but he’ll take strange route on his way to leading the nation’s diplomatic corps.

Pompeo is the CIA director whom Donald Trump selected to succeed Rex Tillerson at the State Department. He has run into trouble on his way to confirmation: Pompeo won’t have the blessing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which conducted confirmation hearings on Pompeo’s nomination.

A Republican committee member, Rand Paul of Kentucky, is going to vote against Pompeo’s nomination. That will result more than likely in a vote of no confidence from the panel.

That won’t derail his confirmation. The full Senate will get to vote on it, but Pompeo will gain the support of Senate Democrats who might be in trouble in states that Trump carried in the 2016 presidential election. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe  Manchin of West Virginia come to mind; let’s toss in Bill Nelson of Florida while we’re at it. They’re all running for re-election, which seems to give Pompeo a leg up in this strange journey toward confirmation.

Actually, I hope Pompeo does get confirmed. The State Department needs a steady hand and I think Pompeo can provide it … if only the president will allow him to lead the agency.

Tillerson had to fight the occasional battle against being undercut by the president. Tillerson would make a pronouncement and then Trump would countermand him. I don’t want that to happen with the new secretary of state, who’s got a big job awaiting him immediately — which happens to be the preparation for the planned summit between Donald Trump and North Korean despot Kim Jong Un.

What’s more, as head of the CIA, Pompeo has joined other U.S. intelligence officials in confirming the obvious: that the Russians meddled in our 2016 election.

This man needs to be our secretary of state.

Whether to protect Mueller … or not

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wields plenty of political clout, but he cannot dictate to all key Senate committee chairs how to run their affairs.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is one who is bristling at McConnell’s reluctance to allow consideration of a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.

I’m with Chairman Grassley on this one.

McConnell said he sees “no indication” that Donald Trump is going to fire Mueller, appointed by the Justice Department to lead a probe into alleged collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russians who meddled in our 2016 election.

No indication? How does he know what the president will do? Trump’s own staff doesn’t know what he thinks from one hour to the next, let alone from day to day, or week to week.

Grassley, meanwhile, wants his committee to vote on a bill to protect Mueller from any whims that might cross the president’s mind to fire him. According to The Hill:

“That’s not necessary. There’s no indication that Mueller’s going to be fired. I don’t think the president’s going to do that, and just as a practical matter even if we passed it, why would he sign it,” McConnell told Fox News. 

When Fox News’s Neil Cavuto noted that some Republicans “fear” that Trump will ax Mueller, the GOP leader fired back: “I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor, that’s my responsibility as the majority leader, and we will not be having this on the floor of the Senate.”

Grassley responded: “Obviously the views of the majority leader are important to consider, but they do not govern what happens here in the Judiciary Committee. … If consideration on the floor was a standard for approving a bill, we wouldn’t be moving any bills out of this committee.”

Mueller is doing the people’s work in seeking to learn the truth behind whatever, if any, relationship the president had with Russian government oligarchs or others who wanted to interfere in our electoral process.

There can be little doubt about the explosion that would occur if Trump were to do something so foolish as firing Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who selected the special counsel.

So, perhaps Trump ought to consider a bill protecting Mueller a bit of a gift. Thus, he might want to tell the Senate majority leader to let this bill reach the floor and allow senators to approve it.

If there’s nothing to the allegation of collusion — as Trump keeps telling us — let Mueller make that determination all by himself without concern that the president will fire him.