Here was the state of checks and balances on the president among House Republicans this morning…
— Nate Hodson (@natehodson) November 15, 2016
…and here’s the state of them in Rand Paul’s no doubt lonely corner of the Senate:
“It’s important that someone who was an unrepentant advocate for the Iraq War, who didn’t learn the lessons of the Iraq War, shouldn’t be the secretary of state for a president who says Iraq was a big lesson,” Paul said in an interview this morning. “Trump said that a thousand times. It would be a huge mistake for him to give over his foreign policy to someone who [supported the war]. I mean, you could not find more unrepentant advocates of regime change.”
Paul argued that both Giuliani and Bolton, the people whose names have circulated most widely, “have made it clear that they favor bombing Iran.” Choosing either for a key administration job, he said, would go back on the “America First” foreign policy that helped Trump win the Republican primaries, to the surprise of the Republican Party foreign policy establishment.
That’s a clever argument, and not untrue. “I’m not insisting on my foreign policy,” Paul will say when right-wingers start screaming about this, “I’m insisting on Trump’s.” At the very least, that’ll force Trump to articulate his Jacksonian-style isolationism better than he has. In what way is John Bolton, a famous hawk, an appropriate choice for a president who’s questioned NATO and who attacked Clinton for all manner of interventions over the past 15 years? In what way is Rudy Giuliani, who wants to try to intimidate Russia militarily to make them more compliant, the right pick for a president who says he wants warmer relations with Russia? Trump has been schizophrenic on foreign policy for more than a year, sometimes suggesting he wants a less aggressive approach abroad, other times wondering if maybe we need 30,000 troops on the ground in Syria to battle ISIS. Paul’s going to force him to explain himself.
He said more about Bolton today in an op-ed:
All nuance is lost on the man. The fact that Russia has had a base in Syria for 50 years doesn’t deter Bolton from calling for all out, no holds barred war in Syria. Bolton criticized the current administration for offering only a tepid war. For Bolton, only a hot-blooded war to create democracy across the globe is demanded…
Bolton would not understand this because, like many of his generation, he used every privilege to avoid serving himself. Bolton said, with the threat of the Vietnam draft over his head, that “he had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy.” But he’s seems to be okay with your son or daughter dying wherever his neoconservative impulse leads us: “Even before the Iraq War, John Bolton was a leading brain behind the neoconservatives’ war-and-conquest agenda,” notes The American Conservative’s Jon Utley.
At a time when Americans thirst for change and new thinking, Bolton is an old hand at failed foreign policy.
The man is a menace.
Why should you care what Rand Paul thinks about this? After all, he can’t filibuster. Harry Reid made sure of that when he eliminated the filibuster for presidential nominations (except for SCOTUS). All Republicans need to confirm Bolton is 51 votes. But that’s easier said than done: As I write this, they have exactly 51 Senate seats in the incoming Congress with a near-certain likelihood of picking up the 52nd when Louisiana holds its Senate runoff election next month. They can afford to lose Paul on a confirmation vote for Bolton and they can afford to lose one other Republican, since Mike Pence would cast the tiebreaking vote in the event of a 50/50 tie. But that’s it. (Unless, that is, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin decides to cross the aisle himself and supply an extra vote for confirmation.) If the left puts lots of pressure on purple-staters like Susan Collins to oppose Bolton, it wouldn’t take much for the nomination to go sideways. This is why Paul is being so aggressive in making his opposition known after conveniently saying nothing to oppose Trump this past summer, while he was running for reelection in Kentucky. He’s trying to call Trump’s bluff and derail a Bolton or Giuliani nomination before it happens, in the expectation that Trump wouldn’t want an embarrassing Borking to start his presidency.
Dave Weigel notes another reason why you should worry about Paul’s vote, though. If he’s serious about going to the mat to block Bolton, he can advance that agenda in committee:
As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he will get to vote on whether to recommend Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. The results of the 2016 elections will give Republicans a 10-9 majority on the committee, meaning that Paul could cast a decisive vote, with every Democrat, against recommending a Trump nominee. That would not stop a full Senate vote on the nominee, but it would expose fissures in the Republican Party in the first weeks of a Trump administration.
Would Paul cast a decisive vote on the Foreign Relations Committee against recommending Bolton if he knew that all it would achieve is giving Bolton and Trump — and the GOP — black eyes? McConnell will lean on him not to do that, as it’ll hand Democrats an easy talking point for the media, that a bipartisan majority on the Committee thinks Trump’s chief diplomat is unqualified. But that talking point could be effective in tilting Collins and some other Republican who’s on the fence about Bolton to vote against him in the final floor vote. If Paul doesn’t think he can win that vote, he could, I suppose, vote yes in committee to give the GOP a “win” there and then vote no in the roll call of the full Senate on Bolton. But how would he justify it? If he doesn’t recommend Bolton for State then how can he cast a committee vote suggesting that he does?
Paul, by the way, supposedly prefers Bob Corker for Secretary of State, no doubt because of Corker’s procedural chicanery in making sure that Obama’s Iran deal was kinda sorta approved (or, rather, not rejected) by the Senate. Corker’s name was floated by Trump’s team initially as a possibility at State but seems to have fallen by the wayside, possibly because he was being pushed by the now purged Christie transition team. Maybe Paul’s gambit here will put Corker back in the mix. Another possibility I’m hearing on Twitter is Jim Webb, a Jacksonian opponent of the Iraq war and an advocate for white working-class concerns that would make him an easy fit with Trump. Webb’s name hasn’t come up in any leaks from Trump’s team that I’m aware of, but maybe it will now.
Update: Rand might not have to worry about Secretary Giuliani after all:
Rudy Giuliani’s paid consulting for foreign governments would present conflicts of interest as the nation’s top diplomat that would make the Clinton Foundation look trifling.
Since leaving the New York mayor’s office, Giuliani has made millions as a lawyer and consultant, including for some clients at odds with U.S. foreign policy. When some of those ties surfaced amid Giuliani’s own presidential bid in 2007, they were considered to pose an unprecedented number of ethical quandaries for a potential commander in chief.
Follow the link for a few examples of Rudy’s business relationships with foreign governments. The defense here will be that what’s good enough for the Clinton Foundation is good enough for Team Trump. Not if they’re serious about “draining the swamp,” it isn’t. Does the swamp need to be drained or does it merely need Republican ownership?