Kildee: GOP Senate majority leader has abdicated constitutional duty

Dan Kildee (left) and Mitch McConnell (right)

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) isn’t one for mincing words, which is one reason why he’s a frequent guest on national talk shows.

President Donald Trump speaks on border security during a Rose Garden event at the White House February 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Alex Wong, Getty Images

The majority chief deputy whip talked with the Advance after the longest partial federal government shutdown in history about the impact on people, which is already being forgotten. The interview was before President Donald Trump declared on Friday a national emergency to get his border wall.

Kildee is a frequent Trump critic, calling him a “manbaby” for prolonging the shutdown and giving him an “F” for his job performance thus far. But in this interview, he saved some of his harshest words for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for allowing Trump to run roughshod over Congress, a co-equal branch of government.

The congressman talked to the Advance about working on a measure to prevent future shutdowns. This week, Kildee and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) introduced a bill aimed at that called the “Ensure Washington Funds Government Responsibly Act.”

The legislation ensures that a short-term spending bill — known as a continuing resolution — would go into effect if Congress failed to fund the government on time. Congress and the president, however, wouldn’t receive paychecks during that period.

U.S. Capitol | Susan J. Demas

“The American people and our dedicated public servants should never be punished when Congress and the president fail to do their job and pass a spending bill,” Kildee said.

The Advance previously talked to Kildee about serving in leadership, Michigan’s new congressional delegation, working with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, speculation that he could run for president, and what Democrats have to do to win Michigan in 2020.

A final story from the interview focusing on the Flint water crisis and what needs to happen next will run on a future edition.

The following are excerpts from the interview:

Michigan Advance: What do you feel needs to happen to prevent another shutdown like this from happening in the future, whether it’s three weeks from now or next year?

Kildee: Well, just a couple things. One, in the very short term, obviously the hope is that we can come to some bipartisan solution on this issue of border security, which I think is quite possible — maybe even probable — were it not for the position, or the continually changing position, that the president continues to take. The best way to avoid the shutdown is to come to an understanding on this budget question regarding border security and immigration issues.

The shutdown loomed large at the Detroit Women’s March in January 2019 | Ken Coleman

My view is we have to go beyond that. I’ve been working with a number of members on some ideas. I know a few members have been putting bills out. I’m still working on one because I want to get it right. It would essentially de-weaponize the use of shutdowns in budget disputes.

… I just met with the Majority Leader [Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)] about half an hour ago on this to try to work through his concerns. We’re trying to not just draft the bill and announce it, but actually put something together that we think the caucus will support.

Ultimately, the idea is to have an automatic continuing resolution. The issue is, if we just stop there, which some of these bills do, I think it creates some perverse incentives for Freedom Caucus types who see this as a way to get in the way and achieve by non-action what they can’t achieve by action — and that is to shrink the government.

Just like any organization, the cost of government marginally incrementally goes up every year. There’s an inflation rate to everything. If somebody in this process can simply impose continuation funding levels on the government, then that effect is to flatline government funding … over time, because the natural effect of incremental cost increases are being reduced for government services.

If we’re going to have a continuing resolution, what we should continue is the level of service that the government currently provides and we need to have a mechanism to do that. We also … want to create some more incentive to actually get something done for people whose goal is to shut down the government. If they want to change the priorities, the only way to do that is to pass legislation through the normal process.

Bottom line is, No. 1, coming to an agreement. That’s only an immediate thing. No. 2 would be try to de-weaponize the use of a shutdown and leverage to get something that the legislative process won’t otherwise produce. I think that’s dangerous. It’s really dangerous for our country.

Those are specific actions we can take. The piece of it that I find most frustrating that I can’t miss pointing out is that I think part of the problem we’ve had in this shutdown experience is that Democrats and Republicans in the [U.S.] House and in the Senate actually had come to agreement. We had come to an understanding about how we would move forward.

Then the president interjected himself, which you expect that. That’s what presidents do of all types. But what isn’t expected is that the Republican leader of the United States Senate [Mitch McConnell] would contradict his own views in order to comply with what felt like a directive from the president.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to members of the media as President Donald Trump listen at the U.S. Capitol after the weekly Republican Senate policy luncheon January 9, 2019 |Alex Wong, Getty Images

I read the Constitution. Article One of the Constitution makes it very clear where the authority to authorize government spending comes from. It comes from the legislative branch. It comes from the Congress. The idea that Mitch McConnell would … view Donald Trump with not just the authority of the presidency, but also make him the Senate majority leader, I think is what got in the way here.

I’ll say this, I understand that maybe some of these Republicans don’t want to cross the president. When I was a Democrat serving in the House with a president of my own party, you had to think twice about crossing the president of your own party. But we did it. We did it. It’s painful. I consider Barack Obama a friend. I didn’t enjoy getting in a fight with him. But we did it, because that’s the job. I just really find it offensive that Mitch McConnell and many others were unwilling to contradict the president.

I think the fact that six Republican senators were courageous enough to do that is what contributed to the president ultimately folding. He would never say he folded, but everybody knows he did. That’s my rant. I promise that will be my last Mitch McConnell rant.

Michigan Advance: Do you feel like he’s not living up to his constitutional duty?

Kildee: No, he’s not. That’s exactly that way I’d put it. He is not doing the job that he swore an oath to. The Constitution makes it clear what his responsibility is. He abdicated that. I think that’s very troublesome.

Michigan Advance: What are the ways that the shutdown impacted your constituents the most?

Kildee: I think some of them it affected quite immediately and quite directly, because they’re federal employees that I see every week when I fly back and forth to Washington that were working without pay — people who are air traffic controllers, TSA officers, technical support staff. … That impact is gonna be felt for a while. You go without pay for 35 days, everything just doesn’t go back to normal on day 36. It’s gonna take a while for those people to get their feet underneath them. There’s one set of problems right there.

Federal workers rally in Detroit to end the government shutdown, Jan. 10, 2019 | Ken Coleman

But I think also, we know that the shutdown cost the US economy $13 billion. That means people lost their jobs. People who could have had jobs had those opportunities taken away from them. There was economic uncertainty. There was uncertainty in terms of the way the world views the United States.

Some of the impact that we feel was immediate, and it was felt by specific people. Some of it was more general, that it was impacting everyone. But I don’t think there’s any way we can say that we weren’t all affected, because the reputation of this country means something. In fact, a disagreement over a policy issue, which is normal, would lead to the shutdown of a big portion of the federal government doesn’t speak very well to our institutions of democracy. It’s kind of a national embarrassment.

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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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