We know from our personal lives that people act for both altruistic and selfish motives. We should welcome the benefits that flow from mixed motives, even as we know there is self-interest at work. (Indeed “enlightened self-interest” is at the root of free markets.) In the public arena, when good politics and good policy merge, you can get remarkable results — even when (especially when?) not everyone’s motives match.
Take the Senate’s mammoth majority vote, 97-2, in favor of Russian sanctions. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the floor today spoke to the foreign policy benefits:
Not only did we pass a new round of tough sanctions for Russia’s meddling in our election, we codified existing sanctions into law, making them harder to lift, and we moved to make the Congress — not the president — the final arbiter of sanctions relief when necessary. Any idea of the president’s that he can lift sanctions on his own for whatever reason are dashed by this legislation.
The House of Representatives should take notice that 97 senators voted in favor of this package and I hope that [House Speaker Paul] Ryan will move with haste to pass this package of sanctions through the House. I hope the president will sign it.
The months-long effort to forge a bipartisan consensus on Russia sanctions — an issue that gets to the vital interests of our country, to the wellsprings of our democracy — gives me hope that Republicans and Democrats can come together and work together on a number of big issues this year.
Certainly, foreign policy experts on both sides of the aisle expressed a certain degree of amazement that the bill was as strong as it was. Edward Fishman, who served in the Obama administration, writes: “Even if Trump persists in his pro-Russia rhetoric, the bill will provide much-needed clarity to US policy toward Russia. It will end worried speculation about the White House’s intentions on sanctions, and it will indicate once and for all that America remains committed to combating Russian aggression. That the US Senate was able to pass such a significant piece of legislation during a time of intense partisan division is no small achievement.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) relayed in a written statement that he “was honored to have Speaker of Ukraine Parliament Andriy Parubiy with me today as the Senate passed these important sanctions and policies that send a clear signal that Russia’s destabilizing and destructive actions must have consequences, and that the United States will stand up for its allies like Ukraine while holding Russia accountable for its bad behavior. The important sanctions and policies included in this legislation will also provide constructive guidance to the administration as it continues to formulate its policies and demonstrate the depth of the support in Congress for a firm and principled approach to Russia.”
In this case, strong policy served both parties’ interests. Republicans who have been loath to criticize Trump for his pro-Russia rhetoric and may even have defended him in hearings on the investigation into potential collusion between Trump campaign members and Russian officials can say, “See, I’m no water-carrier for Trump when it comes to Russia!” Democrats, meanwhile, delight in taking authority away from Trump, highlighting how bad is the behavior of the autocrat for whom Trump only has praise and reminding us that this was the country that the Trump team spent so much time and effort cultivating in the transition and beyond. (Yeah, Trump gave classified intelligence to these people!)
Rest assured that, just as he did in the budget negotiations, Schumer is triangulating a bit, praising Republicans for acting independently of the White House. Schumer knows without Trump’s noxious presence that there is room for horse-trading with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who, like Schumer, loves to make deals. You can almost imagine that all of the sweet bipartisan sentiment expressed over the past 24 hours might amount to something — if only Trump would play more golf and stay out of the way.
So, yes, here we see the prefect combination of partisan and policy motives — all in service of an effective bill that genuinely marks a high point in foreign policy bipartisanship. What’s not to like?