Jeff Flake

Congressional Republicans Promote 2016 'Ideas' Strategy, Warn Against Trump At Heritage 'Conservative Policy Summit'

The Heritage Foundation’s political advocacy affiliate, Heritage Action for America, held an all-day “Conservative Policy Summit” on Wednesday, during which Heritage staff and supporters heard from nearly two dozen conservative Republican members of Congress. Heritage's president, former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, reaffirmed one of the organization’s longstanding principles — that you can’t legitimately call yourself an economic conservative if you aren’t also a social conservative.

The morning consisted of speeches on “conservative policy pillars” – House Speaker Paul Ryan on leadership, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa on defense, Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina on social policy, and Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska on economic policy. The afternoon was built around panel discussions on the House Freedom Caucus, the freshman class, differences in the workings of the House and Senate, and the state of the conservative movement. What was meant to be a closing debate on the filibuster between Rep. Bob Goodlatte and Sen. Mike Lee turned into a moderated conversation with Lee — who defends the filibuster against frustrated right-wing House members — when Goodlatte didn’t show.

Ryan’s opening speech set a mostly high-minded tone, saying conservatives must address Americans who are hurting and convince them that a conservative pro-growth agenda offers them more promise than “failed” liberal policies. He called for a “clarifying election” that would, like Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory, come with a mandate to enact conservative policies. Ryan warned that with one more progressive presidency “liberals will lock in all their gains” — and that Democrats’ refusal to deal with entitlement reform would ensure monetary and fiscal crises.

In remarks that may have been intended for his Heritage Action hosts and members of the Freedom Caucus, Ryan urged conservatives not to engage in a “circular firing squad” or waste time fighting over tactics or impugning one others’ motives. “We can’t let how someone votes on an amendment to an appropriations bill define what it means to be conservative, because it’s setting our sights too low,” he said.

Ryan also said Republicans must not be merely oppositional. He suggested that conservatives who promised to repeal Obamacare while Obama was still in office were merely setting themselves up for failure. He said House Republicans are putting together a five part ideas-based agenda that will define the year in the areas of national security, jobs and the economy, healthcare, poverty and opportunity, and restoring the Constitution.

Rep. Mark Walker, a Southern Baptist minister, was introduced by Heritage’s Jennifer Marshall as a champion of the right-wing social agenda on marriage, abortion and religious liberty. Walker said the country was founded on traditional values, but that decades of liberal policies have led to the “undoing” of communities: “The federal government has hijacked the American Dream and the family has been decimated.”

Walker said Congress must “eliminate every taxpayer dollar that goes to Planned Parenthood,” saying, “There is no other freedom-robbing, opportunity-destroyer and life-killer that is more intentional than Planned Parenthood.”  Walker did not directly address the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling or the resistance to the ruling being pushed by some social conservatives. In a question about how to make marriage fashionable, he said the church has to do its job in teaching the truth about family.

Walker said people are right to be angry about some things, like classrooms indoctrinating students with “progressive secularism,” and said that anger can be a powerful motivator if properly targeted. He urged people to be discerning and compassionate in order to more effectively make the conservative case. “It’s okay to be a loud voice as long as you’re doing more than just making noise,” he said.

Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a former college president tasked with talking about economic freedom, said that the American idea of limited government and conservatives’ commitment to the free market are grounded in “an anthropological claim about human dignity.” Like other speakers, Sasse denounced what he described as regulatory overreach. He disputed the characterization by former Democratic Rep. Barney Frank that government is “another word for the things we choose to do together.” No, said Sasse, government is not community, but compulsion, power and force.

Sasse seemed to criticize Donald Trump’s campaign without mentioning the candidate by name (something Ryan had also done), saying it was wrong to think that government power or a single election can fix things.

A lot of what is happening in the Republican electorate right now is the downstream effects of the tribalism of race, class and gender identity politics on the left, that some of the right have decided, well, if they’re going to have an identity politics, maybe we should have an identity politics. And that is an abandonment of the American idea. We already have one post-constitutional party in this country; we don’t need a second one. And so the idea that there is a strongman that can save us isn’t true. It’s understandable why it can be attractive, but it isn’t true. And so if you pretend that if only we gave more power to one guy in Washington, but he was the right guy, everything would be fixed, I submit to you that that act is the act of saying everything is already lost in the American experiment. Because what America needs is a constitutional recovery, not a Republican Barack Obama.

A panel with members of the House Freedom Caucus — what moderator Fred Barnes referred to affectionately as the “Bomb-thrower Caucus” — included Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Raul Labrador of Idaho, Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina. A common theme of their remarks was that Republicans in Congress have lost the trust of the American people by overpromising and under-delivering because too many of them get to D.C. and get talked into being a “team player.” Members of the Freedom Caucus and panel of House freshmen all seemed optimistic that the House would function more effectively under the speakership of Paul Ryan than it did under deal-maker John Boehner.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia talked about the new Article I project that has been launched by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and others, which is designed to limit the regulatory power of federal agencies and the discretionary power of the president. (Lee and Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas described the Article I project in National Review this week.) Later in the day Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona also mentioned the project, saying he hoped it would reinvigorate the constitutional balance between the legislative and other branches.

But in spite of the perils they said face America, panelists were positive about the state of the conservative movement. Rep. Gary Palmer of Alabama noted that the conservative movement today has many assets that Ronald Reagan didn’t, including a national network of state-level think tanks and advocacy organizations, political groups devoted to candidate recruitment and training and grassroots mobilization, and GOP control in most statehouses and legislatures. Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia, who waged the right-wing insurgent campaign that defeated former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary, predicted a conservative wave election. And Rep. Bill Flores of Texas said the conservative movement is strong, as reflected in the success of “outsider” candidates in the Iowa caucuses and the majorities in the House and Senate — there’s just “one big step to go.”

A Small, But Important, Step Towards Common Sense in Judicial Confirmation Process

Last week, in advance of a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on six Arizona district court nominees, senior legislative counsel Paul Gordon asked if Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain would be able to convince their Republican colleagues to break what has become their practice of routinely delaying nominees’ votes. Since 2009, only five of President Obama’s judicial nominees had been allowed to have their committee votes cast without delay. Gordon urged the Senators to forgo this obstruction, especially given the enormous caseload in Arizona that is impeding the operation of the Arizona district court that has 6 of its 13 seats vacant. 

Yesterday, in a departure from their practice, the Committee actually voted on the nominees. 91. 5 KJAZZ reported:

“The liberal advocacy group People for the American Way called this a step toward fixing the judicial vacancy rate in Arizona, but noted that there are 28 people awaiting confirmation ahead of these nominees.”

Executive vice president Marge Baker also commented on the turn of events in an interview with Cronkite News:

“It wasn’t sustainable to keep delaying this process, and it seems that Arizona senators finally heeded reason. Arizona has had a terrible judicial vacancy rate. This is an important step towards fixing it.”

This was a relief for the state of Arizona, as well as a nice change of pace for Senate Republicans. But as a judicial vacancy crisis continues in Arizona and across the country, the work is far from over.

PFAW

Flake and McCain's Next Steps for AZ Nominees

Will Arizona's senators try to convince their GOP colleagues to eliminate the bottleneck of stalled nominees who are ahead of six Arizona nominees?
PFAW

Will McCain and Flake Let GOP Obstruct AZ Nominees?

Flake and McCain should not let their GOP colleagues needlessly delay a committee vote on nominees to fill six judicial emergencies in Arizona.
PFAW

Remembering The Religious Right's Attacks On Nelson Mandela

The news today of Nelson Mandela’s passing is also time to reflect on the complicated relationship between Mandela and his anti-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) with the US, which did not always support the anti-apartheid struggle. In fact, American conservatives lobbied the federal government in the 1980s to withhold support from the anti-apartheid movement.

President Reagan added the ANC to the US terrorism watch list, a designation not removed until 2008, and unsuccessfully vetoed sanctions against the apartheid regime. Many Republican lawmakers did break with the Reagan administration’s stance, but “all 21 [Senate] votes to sustain the veto were cast by Republicans.”

Mandela faced criticism from Republican leaders including Dick Cheney, who described Mandela’s ANC as a “terrorist organization,” and Jesse Helms, who “turned his back during Mandela’s visit to the U.S. Capitol.” Even in 1998, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly lumped Mandela together with notorious dictators.

The late Jerry Falwell urged [PDF] his supporters to write their congressmen and senators to tell them to oppose sanctions against the apartheid regime. “The liberal media has for too long suppressed the other side of the story in South Africa,” he said. “It is very important that we stay close enough to South Africa so that it does not fall prey to the clutches of Communism.”

“South Africa is torn by civil unrest, instigated primarily by Communist-sponsored people who are capitalizing on the many legitimate grievances created by apartheid, unemployment and policy confrontations,” Falwell continued.

Finally, we should, if possible, invest in South Africa, because this inevitably improves the standard of living for nonwhites there.

Now is not the time to turn our backs on South Africa. The world has witnessed the Soviets capture nation after nation. They have been particularly aggressive in Africa. South Africa must not be the next victim!

David John Marley notes in Pat Robertson: An American Life that Robertson criticized the ANC because it was “led by communists and was hostile to Israel” and “far too radical an element to ever work with,” while “his campaign literature made similar claims for the need to support the white government.”

The televangelist regularly spoke ill of Mandela’s group and his Christian Broadcasting Network ran segments critical of sanctions against the apartheid government as Congress debated sanctions.

In 1986 The 700 Club did a series of reports on South Africa and the white government’s struggle against the African National Congress. While many socially liberal religious leaders decried the apartheid regime, Robertson openly supported it because he felt that it was a bastion against communism. For Robertson, everything else was secondary to defeating what he saw as the enemies of God. Robertson sent a copy of The 700 Club program to Freedom Council’s Dick Thompson to have it forwarded to Pat Buchanan, who in turn promised to show it to the president. Reagan’s attitude toward South Africa was one of his most controversial foreign policy stands, and Robertson was one of Reagan’s few allies on the policy.

Sam Kleiner mentions that now-Sen. Jeff Flake, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff were also active in lobbying against the anti-apartheid movement:

Jack Abramoff, now a disgraced former lobbyist convicted of fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion, got much of his start from his work with South Africa. Abramoff visited the country following his term as National Chair of the College Republicans in 1983 and met with pro-apartheid student groups linked to the South Africa’s Bureau of Security Services. In 1986, he opened the International Freedom Foundation. Ostensibly a think tank, it was later revealed as a front group for the South African Army as part of “Operation Babushka” meant to undermine Nelson Mandela’s international approval. The group had over “30 young ideologues in offices on G Street in Washington, Johannesburg, London and Brussels” working on propaganda in support of the South African government.



Like Abramoff, GOP tax guru Grover Norquist became enamored with the conflict in South Africa and went there to extend his support. Norquist ran College Republicans from 1981 to 1983 and went to South Africa in 1985 for a “Youth for Freedom Conference” sponsored by South African businesses. While other college students, such as Barack Obama, had been active in anti-apartheid work, this conference was seeking to bring American and South African conservatives together to end that movement. In his speech there, Norquist said, “The left has no other issue [but apartheid] on campus. Economic issues are losers for them. There are no sexy Soviet colonies anymore.” A few months after the conference, Norquist went to Angola to work with Jonas Savimbi, the rebel leader that Abramoff valorized in his film. Norquist became a ghost-writer for Savimbi’s essay in Policy Review. When he returned to Washington, he was greeted in conservative circles as a “freedom fighter,” and he proudly placed an “I’d rather be killing commies” bumper sticker on his brief case.

A few years later and much further along in the anti-apartheid movement, a young Jeff Flake (now a senator from Arizona) became active in lobbying for South African mining interests in the late 1980s and early ’90s, after returning from his Mormon mission to South Africa. As a graduate student at Brigham Young University, he testified against an anti-apartheid resolution in the Utah State Senate and then became a lobbyist in Washington for Smoak, Shipley and Henry, a lobbying firm specializing in representing the South African mining industry. Flake went on to personally represent the Rossing Uranium plant in Namibia, which had been a major target of anti-apartheid activists for its discriminatory and unsafe practices.

Decades later, these Republican leaders would prefer not to have their adventures in South Africa mentioned. While Abramoff went down in a corruption scandal, Norquist went on to remake himself into a libertarian anti-tax activist, and Flake moved back to Arizona. The anti-communism that motivated the Republican allegiance to South Africa fizzled with the end of the Cold War, but the history of the Republican entanglement with South Africa remains one of the party’s darker episodes.

President Obama can proudly talk about how his first political act was in response to apartheid. While a few Republicans stood against apartheid, much of the Republican Party has nothing to offer about its position at the time but silence. I wouldn’t expect any reflections on apartheid from Abramoff, Flake or Norquist anytime soon.

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