Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has not been a vocal critic of President Trump. He nevertheless quietly has tried to hold the line against an unhinged, irrational and increasingly authoritarian president. Last week on the subject of an emergency declaration, he told me, “It is my hope that the president doesn’t go the national-emergency route because of the precedent it sets. It’s a much wiser idea to negotiate something in Congress and reach an agreement here.”
In addition, Portman introduced two bills. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should give his colleague a vote by placing the measures on the floor.
First, together with Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), he introduced legislation that would “establish a $25 billion trust fund to enhance U.S. border security” and also protect those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The trust fund would include money “for no fewer than 700 miles of reinforced fencing (excluding vehicle barriers), additional physical barriers, access and patrol roads, lighting, an interlocking surveillance camera system, remote sensors, and the purchase of surplus Department of Defense aircraft and unmanned systems.” You’ll recall that when the Senate voted on something just like this in February 2018, Trump whipped up Republicans to prevent the tally from reaching 60 votes needed for cloture. (It did get 54 votes, however.) This is a helpful reminder that there was bipartisan support for a bill almost a year ago that would have included money for the wall. The border was such a non-emergency, Trump stopped it cold.
Second, Portman and Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), Steve Daines (Mont.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), James E. Risch (Idaho), Mike Lee (Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) introduced the End Government Shutdowns Act that “will permanently prevent the federal government from shutting down, ensuring that essential government services aren’t disrupted and protecting taxpayers who must bear the resulting cost.” To prevent further shutdowns, the bill would create “an automatic continuing resolution (CR) for any regular appropriations bill or existing CR, keeping the federal government open when budget negotiations falter before key spending deadlines.” (By the way, Portman has introduced the bill in every Congress since 2010; if only Congress had taken it up, we could have avoided four shutdowns, including the current one.)
Each one of them made an impassioned statement about how harmful, unfair, disruptive and expensive shutdowns are. Well, if they feel that way, why aren’t they insisting that McConnell allow a vote now to end the current one? Remember, the entire Senate voted on a bill last year that would now do just that; it’s only that McConnell has refused to do it again. Listen, if shutdowns are as harmful, unfair, disruptive and expensive as they say, there is no excuse not to end this one and then proceed to hearings and votes on Portman’s second bill. The reason they won’t? McConnell is more concerned about defending Trump than he is representing the sentiments of his own members, preserving the Senate’s stature as half of an equal branch of government and alleviating the pain of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans. Come to think of it, maybe Portman should be majority leader.