HOW THREE GOP SENATORS COULD CHANGE EVERYTHING BY DECLARING THEIR INDEPENDENCE

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HOW THREE GOP SENATORS COULD CHANGE EVERYTHING BY DECLARING THEIR INDEPENDENCE

July 24, 2017

By Joe Rothstein

An uncommon reservoir of courage and fortitude was required for Republican Senators Shelley Moore Capito, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins to jointly announce their opposition to the Republican Senate health bill.

Yes, there was ferocious opposition to the bill from constituents and health organizations in their home states. But weighing against that was the prospect of retribution from the angry god in the White House, from fellow senators who could tank legislation they cared about, from disappointed campaign contributors, and threats that they would face well-financed opponents in their next Republican primaries.

No matter what happens from here in the health care repeal-and-replace saga, you can be sure that radical right wing Republican voters and contributors will not forget or forgive Capito, Murkowski, or Collins.

That should make it easier for these three Republican senators to take the logical next step—to leave the Republican caucus, become independents, and to provide the votes needed to flip control of the Senate to the Democrats.

Far fetched? Not really. It makes sense as both a matter of principle and political self-preservation.

Let’s start with the politics.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and the Alaska Republican party have never been a good fit. She won reelection in 2016 with only 44% of the vote, heavily supported by Democrats in a multi-candidate race. In 2010 she actually lost the Republican primary to a right-wing radical and kept her Senate seat only because Democrats voted for her as a write-in candidate that November. She could much more easily win in Alaska as an independent without a primary than as a Republican with one. She’s already proven that twice. And, it’s worth noting that Alaska’s current governor won election as an independent, defeating an incumbent Republican.

Maine Senator Susan Collins won her last Senate election by 40 points. She doesn’t run for reelection until 2020. That is, if she decides to remain in the Senate. Collins is seriously considering bailing out of the Senate in 2018 to run for governor of Maine. There’s little political risk for her to announce her independence from the Republican Senate caucus, where she’s forced to go along with a far right agenda that she wears uncomfortably. If she were to run as governor in 2018 she could do it as a Republican or as an independent. Angus King, the other Maine senator, is running for reelection in 2018—as an independent.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito announced her opposition to the Republican health bill by saying she didn’t go to Washington “to hurt anyone.” Reaction from her constituents in West Virginia has been heavily supportive. In 2016, the state voted for Trump, and on the same ballot elected a Democratic governor. Clearly, fidelity to a political party is not a lock step requirement in West Virginia.

Which brings us to principle.

These three Republican senators have demonstrated time and again that they see politics not just as a contest to win but as an opportunity to govern. All must be appalled at Trump’s attacks on our system of justice, his egregious budget that they soon will be asked to approve, his bizarre appointees who, as Republicans, they are required to confirm, and other legislation flowing from the White House and the U.S. House that have radically altered the definition of “Republican.”

Each of them comes from a state that leans heavily on financial support from Washington and would suffer severely if the current Republican agenda were enacted.

When Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter left the Republican party in 2009, Senator Chuck Schumer supported his bid to maintain his seniority and chairmanships with the Senate majority. As Democratic leader, Schumer almost certainly would do the same for Murkowski, Collins and Capito if they were to caucus with the Democrats. That precedent was set by then Democratic majority leader Tom Daschle, when Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords switched from Republican to independent in 2001, tipping the Senate balance from Republican to Democrat.

By leaving the Republican caucus, declaring their independence and doing it as a group these three could immediately transform the national debate and political direction of Washington. They could put a brake on the worst excesses of the Trump administration and the Republican House. They could insist on changes in health care legislation that improve what we have, not degrade it. They could help craft legislation to redeem what Trump’s voters expect—legislation to help restore economic opportunity to those left behind.

West Virginia’s Senator Capito said she didn’t come to Washington to hurt anyone. That’s admirable, but it’s a low bar. The people’s Congress should exist to help as well as not hurt. She, Murkowski and Collins are in a position to do that. But they need to do that together, and soon.

(Joe Rothstein is a regular columnist for USPoliticstoday.com and author of the acclaimed political thriller “The Latina President and the Conspiracy to Destroy Her.” Mr. Rothstein can be contacted at joe@einnews.com).

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