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It’s very dangerous in Washington for Republican politicians to do anything substantive to resist the American left. Those who do face pressure from mega-donors, vitriol from the media, and betrayal from their own Republican colleagues.
This harsh reality leaves the Grand Old Party (GOP) incapable of tackling the systemic problems our country faces. Voters deserve to know which of their representatives in Congress is willing to take a stand–as well as the names of those who are not.
The latest candidate for sacrifice is Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who was targeted by an alliance of liberal Democrats and war-happy Republicans for daring to oppose the Biden Pentagon’s radical new policy of spending taxpayer dollars to pay for “abortion vacations” for servicewomen stationed in states that have placed limits on abortion.
Tuberville is new to Washington, so he thought he’d stand up to the administration on behalf of both the unborn and the voters who sent him to D.C. He didn’t realize the Pentagon is accustomed to getting its way in town.
The Pentagon and its allies, however, didn’t realize the new guy doesn’t respond well to bullying, and were shocked when he didn’t bend the knee after a few months. Now Republican Pentagon hawks, including the likes of Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., want to remind everyone they’re the ones in charge of the conservative coalition.
Military abortion is probably not the top issue in an age of broken families, rampant drug addiction, a collapsed southern border, mass deindustrialization, and communal alienation, but for a good number of Republican voters, it was a fight worth having. Not only that, it was a fight the administration picked. Tuberville wasn’t asking for the Department of Defense to institute some new, politicized policy–he was simply asking it not to institute a new, politicized policy. He promised the administration in December 2022 that if it went ahead with the policy change, he’d force votes on every military promotion the Senate had to confirm (and would prefer unanimous consent on). He followed through on that, and fought heroically for 11 months.
Republicans had a chance to back their colleague last week. The House of Representatives had passed a version of the National Defense Authorization Act amended to stop the Pentagon’s illegal use of taxpayer dollars, and the Senate merely had to adopt it. Tuberville reportedly had the votes to do so, but was denied the chance by congressional leaders from both chambers and both parties. In order to hand an easy win to the Pentagon, they surrendered a winnable battle for a base issue.
The same sort of attitude is on display in the fight over Ukraine spending, where a choice few Republicans are demanding real and actionable border security measures in exchange for sending tens of billions more dollars to defend Ukraine’s borders. When Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson told his colleagues this week that more Ukraine funding was dead-on-arrival without serious border security measures, Senate Republicans balked.
“[The border security provision] didn’t get a single Democrat vote in the House,” Republican Sen. James Lankford replied. “I have to get 20 Democrat votes here. If the House is going to say it has to be our bill that we got zero Democrats on but I need you to go get 20 over in your body, that’s not rational. That’s not how things work.”
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina was more direct: “He’ll get what we send him,” he said, dismissing Johnson’s stand.
Both Lankford and Tillis are supposedly lead negotiators for the Republican position, but instead of negotiating with Democrats, they are negotiating with themselves, fighting those Republicans who say they’re not going to support foreign spending until at least one major, deadly domestic issue is tackled.
Remember: Congress holds the key to spending; if conservative Republicans don’t think their concerns are being taken seriously, they don’t have to pass the swamp’s concerns – they can hold the whole thing up.
The reality is, most Republicans don’t want to play that kind of hard ball. They would happily vote for hollow border concessions to make it look like they’re standing strong, while really they’re just tacking a fig leaf onto more money for foreign wars. Spending is easy; fighting is hard.
On Tuesday, the Senate finally bulldozed Tuberville’s lonely guardpost. Democrats, with the support of Republican Pentagon hawks, had promised to temporarily change the chamber’s rules so military promotions only required 51 votes to pass, instead of the normal 60, and Tuberville’s ever-brave colleagues had warned him the rule-change would set a dangerous precedent.
It would have taken nine Republican votes to change the rules and betray Tuberville, conservative voters, and their own campaign promises. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell knew he had those nine votes, but Tuberville’s surrender, they insisted, would still be better for “the team.” This way, those Republicans who’d been willing to stab him in the back wouldn’t have to put their names on the record.
After heroically fighting the Pentagon, the media, the Democrats and his own colleagues, Tuberville finally relented. He’d been blackmailed by his own team.
Among Republicans in the capital city today, fig leaves and half-measures pass for fighting back, and those who don’t get the memo are persona non grata. In truth, the GOP constitutes a “controlled opposition”–one that pantomimes a bold alternative to the Democrats, while actually offering a pale imitation. They’ve already chalked up a win for the Pentagon and a loss for social conservatives this Christmas. They might even bulldoze the new speaker of the House.
If the voters are going to get a party that fights for them in the future, they had better learn who fights for them now. And remember those Republicans who betrayed the freshman senator from Alabama.