Last week, the U.S. Senate recognized Sen. Richard Shelby for casting his 10,000th vote.
Such is the culture of the Senate in 2018 that staying in government long enough to cast 10,000 votes is something to be celebrated. Perhaps the driving force behind this need to recognize Shelby’s achievement is the senior Alabama senator’s current effort to return to regular order of the appropriations process.
Over the last several years, Congress has forgone regular order for passage of “omnibus” spending bills. Regular order, in the current political climate, has been too difficult, and the last-ditch omnibus bill method has been the only way to avoid a government shutdown.
Now, with Shelby at the helm of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he has signaled he wants to make regular order a hallmark achievement of his chairmanship.
Unfortunately for Shelby, President Donald Trump is willing to sacrifice all that if the Republican-controlled Congress punts on funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Good for Trump
For the last two years, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has played a strange political game with Trump. During recesses, McConnell has ordered the Senate to ceremonially gavel in to prevent Trump from making recess appointments. After his primary election loss last year, then-Sen. Luther Strange spent his Thanksgiving break performing this duty for the McConnell-led Congress.
Republican members of the House have cried foul over the Senate’s inaction. McConnell and others in the Republican leadership, such as Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, have blamed the required 60-vote majority to overcome a filibuster.
Although they pretend, McConnell and his colleagues in charge of the Senate GOP caucus aren’t willing to take the necessary measures to help Trump fulfill his agenda. It’s obvious McConnell let it be known he won’t be on board with that agenda, without at least getting something in return.
For better or for worse, Trump played along. He named McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, the secretary of transportation. He backed “Big Luther” last year.
Still no wall, or any sign that the wall will get funding. There has been no indication that Trump will get authorization to force Mexico to pay for the wall, as he had promised during the 2016 campaign.
It is likely McConnell doesn’t take Trump as seriously as Trump and his supporters think he should. Trump is the unlikely president, and even though the two are in the same party, beyond the professional wrestling aspects of our politics it is meaningless. In some ways, McConnell sees himself as above Trump.
Otherwise, why would he run the U.S. Senate as he does?
Shelby has shown he is willing to go along with McConnell’s leadership, even if it means going against the wishes of his constituents.
That is where Alabama’s senior senator — and his staff — find themselves, at odds with the voters of Alabama. Alabamians want the border wall even if that means getting aggressive. Shelby says he wants regular order.
The question Shelby needs to ask himself is: Do a majority of voters in Alabama want a border wall or do they want the Senate Appropriations Committee to be able to churn out individual spending bills instead of omnibus appropriations packages?
This seems like a silly question. Alabama is one of the first states to embrace the so-called “Make America Great Again” agenda. Shelby’s former Senate colleague Jeff Sessions was the father of this modern populist movement and emphasized immigration and border security.
Nearly every candidate running in this year’s Republican primaries for a statewide office attempted to run as Donald Trump.
When it comes to greenlighting funding for the border wall, Shelby dodges. He evades. He squirms.
“I think the president’s very serious about more money to fund the wall,” Shelby said to The Washington Post. “I understand that. I’ve met with him on that. It’s mind-boggling to me that anybody would say ‘well, we’re going to shut down the government if I don’t get my way.’”
Is it really “mind-boggling?” Did you expect the man who threw out the old playbook of presidential campaigns to adhere to these made-up norms and protocols of Washington, D.C.?
More often than not, those rules of decorum are used as a means to camouflage the rot and decay of cronyism that has infested the federal government and made it possible for a candidate like Trump to win the presidency.
Richard Shelby couldn’t care less about a border wall. In some ways, he couldn’t care less about the wishes of his constituents. For the most part, he gets feigning praise from the media in Alabama dominated by those that hold liberal beliefs.
He stood up to the redneck wingnuts in his party and Roy Moore. That’s good enough for them.
His legacy will be that he brought the bacon home to Alabama. He’ll be rewarded with his name on a few buildings around the state.
Try as he may, he’ll never catch up to George Corley Wallace.
Luckily for the voters of Alabama, they have a president who is more willing to act in their interests than the U.S. senator.