Flip-flopping is a political no-no. Why do so many politicians do it anyway?
It seems like just yesterday, congressional leadership was pounding its chest about ensuring that the 45th president of the United States should be held to rigorous ethical standards. Step out of line and prepare to be hit with a subpoena to appear in front of the House Oversight Committee. Bam! Oh, and that Supreme Court seat they were holding open? Yeah, maybe they’d leave it open for another four years. Raring to go for an opportunity to flex some major “checks and balances” muscle, our legislative branch was making their bold intentions known.
And then something completely unexpected happened: Donald Trump was elected.
Suddenly up became down, black became white (or orange, depending on how you look at it), and those firmly held positions became a whole lot more malleable.
Here are a few recent examples of politicians whose positions on things like ethics, conflicts of interest, and whether or not it's OK to criticize the president have changed since the election.
1. Republican members of the Senate were set on blocking any Supreme Court nominee for an indefinite amount of time. Now they say that's unacceptable.
In February 2016, Antonin Scalia died, creating a vacancy on the Supreme Court. With nearly a full year left in his presidency, Barack Obama set out to appoint Merrick Garland to the court. The Republican-controlled Senate had other plans and refused to hold hearings to confirm Garland to his spot on the court. At the time, the argument was that we should wait until the next president was sworn in to fill the open seat, but as a Clinton victory looked more and more certain, the goalposts began to shift a bit.
"If Hillary Clinton becomes president, I am going to do everything I can do to make sure four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) in November. Others — such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) — seemed to support to Burr's plan.
Fast-forward to January 2017, with Donald Trump's inauguration looming ever closer. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) held a press conference to discuss the party's legislative plans for the new session. While there, McConnell touched on plans for President-elect Trump's choice to fill Scalia's court vacancy, warning Democrats that "the American people simply will not tolerate" Democrats blocking Trump's future court appointments.
Yep, that's right. In the span of a couple short months, the same senators went from aggressively suggesting that it would be fine to keep a Supreme court vacancy open for four years to condemning such behavior and calling it unacceptable, while hiding behind the American people to justify the sudden shift. In truth, yeah, a lengthy vacancy was probably unacceptable from the start, but this is a major 180.
2. In 2009, Mitch McConnell took a stand for ethical standards prior to confirming Obama's cabinet appointments. In 2017, he says he'll be much more hands-off when it comes to Trump's appointments.
In 2009, just after Obama was sworn into office, McConnell warned then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) against trying to push the president's appointments through without proper vetting. In a letter dated Feb. 12, 2009, McConnell laid out eight requirements he expected presidential appointments to meet — clearance by the FBI, approval by the Office of Government Ethics, complete and accurate committee questionnaires, and the submission of financial disclosure forms, among others. While several of Obama's appointees had already been confirmed by the Senate when the letter was written, McConnell's letter urged the "fair and consistent application" of ethical standards moving forward.
In 2017, however, those standards seem a little less fair and a lot less consistent. A number of Trump's appointees have fallen short of McConnell's list of best practices. McConnell's response to those who want to put the brakes on confirmation hearings until those standards are met: "We need to, sort of, grow up here and get past that."
Noting the bit of hypocrisy, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) decided to send McConnell's own letter back to him verbatim, with some names changed.
Ethical standards exist for a reason, and McConnell was right to take a stand in 2009 to defend them. What happened to those values once his party was back in power?
3. Obama's critics slammed the president for "picking winners and losers," but offered Trump praise for doing the same thing.
Depending on who you ask, 2009's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was either a much-needed piece of legislation that helped pull the U.S. out of the Great Recession or it was a gigantic waste of taxpayer money. At the time it passed, critics of the bill, which was designed to provide a stimulus to the economy, argued that this sort of government intervention set a dangerous precedent of picking "winners and losers." Similar concerns were put forward when Obama took steps to save the auto industry.
"If you take a look at the president's policies he calls them 'investments,' it's borrowing money and spending money through Washington, picking winners and losers," Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) said in 2012. "Spending money on favorite, you know, people like Solyndra or Fisker. Picking winners and losers in the economy through spending, through tax breaks, through regulations does not work."
But in 2016, when PEOTUS Trump announced a plan to save a few hundred jobs at an Indiana Carrier plant at a cost of $7 million to taxpayers, Ryan's tune had changed.
"I’m pretty happy that we’re keeping jobs in America — aren’t you?" said the Speaker of the House. "I don’t know the details of the Carrier arrangement ... but I think it’s pretty darn good that people are keeping their jobs in Indiana instead of going to Mexico."
What happened to "picking winners and losers in the economy through spending, through tax breaks, through regulations does not work"? Ryan went from a politician willing to stand up for his values, and then became completely ambivalent to them once his party's candidate was elected.
4. Trump's rise in politics began with a multi-year campaign against Obama's legitimacy. Now, he — and his surrogates — are outraged that Rep. John Lewis would question his.
In an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd, Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) explained that he would not be attending Trump's inauguration, saying, "I don't see [Trump] as a legitimate president," referring to Russia's possible role in hacking Democratic National Committee emails to sway public opinion toward Trump.
Predictably, this comment led to a certain amount of controversy.
It makes sense that Trump's supporters would come to his defense. The defense they decided to go with, however, was a bit suspect. On CNN, conservative commentator Ben Ferguson said that he couldn't imagine what the reaction would be if a Republican were to suggest Obama wasn't a legitimate president.
There's only one problem with that. At least one prominent Republican spent years accusing Obama of not being legitimate — and we just elected him president. Others — such as Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington), Rep. Charles Boustany (R-Louisiana), Rep. Bill Posey (R-Florida), and more — have also fanned the flames of "birtherism" in the past.
There's a troubling inconsistency in how politicians act and what they believe in when someone from their own party is in power as opposed to when they're discussing someone from the other party.
It's partisanship, pure and simple, and it's harmful to our country.
Whether someone has a "D" or an "R" next to their name should not change how someone feels about the policies they put forward or to what standards should be held. When we let political divisions stand in the way of trusting whether or not our representatives have the best interests of their constituents in mind, we all lose.
Whether you voted for a Democrat, a Republican, or someone else altogether, shouldn't we ask that our representatives work together to find the best solutions for all Americans?