Wanted: A Senate gang that can lead
Serious nations don’t shut their governments down over border-security disputes. Serious national leaders wouldn’t even threaten to do so.
But we’re now down to that here in the United State of Insanity, where our toddler in chief takes his cues from right-wing buffoons like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.
The problem, however, isn’t just Trump. It’s the lack of independent-minded Republican leadership in the US Senate. Time was, the Senate majority leader’s job was a truly significant national post. Occupying it, men like Lyndon Johnson, Mike Mansfield, Howard Baker, and Bob Dole played influential policy-making roles of their own.
But majority leader Mitch McConnell isn’t even an evanescent epigone of those larger figures, as he has demonstrated yet again in the border wall imbroglio. Recall that, a few days before Christmas, the Senate unanimously passed a short-term funding measure without any wall funding. That would have left more than a month to negotiate the border-security dispute in the new year.
Then Limbaugh and Coulter started braying, and Trump issued his shutdown ultimatum.
Here, a serious Senate leader had a choice. Stick by his guns and bolster the Senate as an independent body, or collapse like a cheap lawn chair. McConnell, naturally enough, chose the lawn-chair option, saying the Senate wouldn’t consider any funding measure not preapproved by Trump. That, even though the new House, led by Democrats, has now passed the same funding resolution that cleared the Senate unanimously on Dec. 19.
So after Trump’s tantrum, McConnell signed away any lingering pretense of having a shred of independent judgment as Senate majority leader. Perhaps Sentinel, the publisher of his dull-thud memoir, “The Long Game,” could rename it “The Prolonged Shame.”
What’s the solution? Here’s one idea: a Senate gang, one of those informal roving confabs of senators who sometimes form across party lines to tackle thorny problems the Senate leadership can’t resolve.
So who could be in this particular gang?
Well, on the Republican side, it would be a fine first outing for newly minted Senator Mitt Romney, who, during his recent CNN interview, offered an instructive insight: To get a deal here, both sides need to have something they can point to as a win.
Then there’s Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado, who is up for reelection in 2020 and has said he wouldn’t shut the government down over funding for a border wall. North Carolina’s Thom Tillis is another Republican up in 2020, and another who is obviously worried about the fallout. He’s suggested a DACA-protections-for-Wall-funding trade. Such a deal might persuade Democrats to say OK to a few billion to satiate Trump’s political edifice complex.
Ben Sasse of Nebraska frequently talks the talk of a larger-minded senator; perhaps Senate gang membership would let him translate talk into action. And how about Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander? Having decided he won’t run for reelection in 2020, Alexander, who once hoped to be a bipartisan bridge-builder, might want something significant to point to as a capstone of his Senate career.
On the Democratic side, moderates like New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, Virginia’s Mark Warner, and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin would be natural candidates. And add in independent (but Democratic caucusing) Angus King of Maine, who has a commonsensical, cut-through-the-clutter way about him.
Such a group might come up with a compromise that gives each side enough to sign off on a deal — and provides Republican senators enough cover to tiptoe back into the policy-making arena. Why, it might even produce an agreement that could get to the Senate floor without a threatened filibuster.
After all, someone in the Senate has to show some leadership.