She’s not in leadership anymore, but Cathy McMorris Rodgers just put on a one-vote exhibition in how to lead.
By doing the hard thing, rather than merely saying the easy one.
Swimming in a sea of congressional Republicans who are troubled-but-not-very by President Donald Trump’s use of a national emergency declaration to end-run the Constitution and build a border wall, McMorris Rodgers became just one of 13 House Republicans to actually go on the record in opposition to it.
In doing so, she and the rest of that baker’s dozen – including Washington’s 3rd District Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler – showed the rest of their crew that it’s possible to act on principle and not just say amen. Even if it means you might not get the wall you really want.
It should not necessarily be such a profile in courage for them to have voted this way; the votes reflect a merely straightforward consistency with the principles most in the party were expressing – at great volume, with great urgency – when former President Barack Obama was testing the limits of presidential autonomy with executive orders on a range of controversial issues.
And yet this GOP congressional contingent has been distinguished by its tendency to abandon yesterday’s principles in favor of today’s objectives, and to make allowances for just about anything that comes burbling out of the White House.
So McMorris Rodgers’ breaking ranks is significant, as it was when she voted for a resolution expressing disapproval of Trump’s lifting of sanctions on Russian companies owned by a Russian oligarch.
I’ve seen a certain amount of minimizing and explaining-away of the vote by her critics – it didn’t influence the outcome in the Democratic House, some say, so it was easier to cast; it was done as a retaliation for internal party politics; it’s just a sign that she’s trying to broaden her appeal; etc. and etc. and etc.
There are always subterranean currents and motives in politics, of course. But this vote was McMorris Rodgers putting her money where her mouth is. Even her critics should give her credit for it.
What has poisoned politics in recent years is less the individual in the White House than the capitulation – to continual lies, to electoral subterfuge, to unconstitutional principles, to seeming criminality, to ignorance and bigotry – by those in Congress who are supposed to honor the Constitution, not just obey the boss.
In casting her no vote, McMorris Rodgers risked her reputation in a Trump district; opposed a president with a long, petty, vengeful memory; and stood against what news reports suggest was a vigorous effort by her party’s leadership to keep members in line.
The wall “emergency” is naked political overreach. The president himself doesn’t bother to hide that fact, saying he didn’t really need to do it – he just wanted to. Having failed to fund the wall through Congress, Trump tried to do it by decree.
Congressional Republicans have had a lot to say about how “troubling” this is. But disappointingly few seem willing to stick their necks out.
The House majority that passed the legislation blocking the emergency declaration isn’t large enough to override a veto; it’s still not clear how it will fare in the Senate, though a number of GOP defectors seem likely.
But there’s a very simple, very clear constitutional principle at stake here, and McMorris Rodgers expressed it cogently in a statement Tuesday.
“Article I of the Constitution gives the legislative branch the exclusive power to make laws and set funding priorities,” she said. “When that power is delegated to the executive or judicial branches, Representatives become elected bystanders and ‘We the People’ no longer have a voice. For that reason – the same reason I was against President Obama using his ‘pen and phone’ – I voted to disapprove of the national security declaration.”
She also said: “My vote to disapprove of unilateral executive action had nothing to do with the merits of building President Trump’s wall – I support it.”
There have been plenty of times when it seemed to me that McMorris Rodgers was more loyal to party than principle. She has tried to walk a fine line when she has taken mild issue with anything Trumpian, and then usually circled back into the fold when voting. She has a career “Trump score” of 96.4 percent agreement with the president, according to the website FiveThirtyEight.
But on Tuesday she did the right thing – not just by my lights, but by the lights of her own oft-stated values. Whether you believe she’s done enough of that before now, credit her for doing it this time. I suspect the country will require many more principled, tough stands from members of the president’s party before this is through.
And if you share her view that the wall is necessary, then credit her for wanting to build it by the lights of the Constitution.
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