Populist synergy: Ted Cruz, AOC ready to co-sponsor a bill to ban members of Congress from becoming lobbyists

A huge development for American politics generally and populism specifically. If Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez can separately produce so many bills that have no hope of passing Congress, imagine how many bills that have no hope of passing Congress they can produce *together.*

I recognize the virtue in their cause but have the same feeling about their partnership that I used to have as a kid watching the WWE and seeing a “face” team up with someone who, until very recently, was a “heel.” You just know the heel’s going to end up hitting the face over the head with a folding chair when he’s not looking.

Although, in fairness, AOC seems to have the same suspicion about Cruz.

Cruz’s reply: “You’re on.” The progressive left and the “constitutionalist” right, together. In real time. On Twitter. The most ambitious crossover event since “Avengers: Endgame,” says my pal Karl.

This isn’t a new idea, of course, and it’s not backed exclusively by populist ideologues. Colorado’s two very moderate senators, Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Michael Bennet, have each supported it in recent years, with Bennet even touting it in his presidential announcement video a few weeks ago. No one likes the “revolving door” between Congress and K Street, in which ex-legislators get to cash in on their public service with lucrative jobs from corporate America and corporate America gets to influence legislation by leveraging those ex-members’ relationships on the Hill. All Cruz and AOC need to do is convince a majority of their colleagues to, er, voluntarily ban themselves from those lucrative jobs after their time in Congress is over. And they somehow need to do it despite the fact that both of them famously earned their own seats in Congress by defeating establishment-backed candidates in competitive primary races. That is, Cruz and AOC have *personally* made centrist members of their party less secure in their jobs and now they’re spoiling to block those centrists from security in their next jobs. This sales pitch should be something to see.

Current rules bar ex-senators from lobbying for two years and ex-representatives from lobbying for one year. Trump proposed a five-year ban on the trail in 2016, when he was eager to show voters that he’d drain the swamp, and then largely forgot about it once in office. Like Bennet, Cruz and AOC want to make the bans permanent. Question for the “constitutionalist” Cruz: Is that … constitutional?

“Two years is too short a time,” McGehee told me, arguing that a five-year prohibition would be the best, most achievable policy. “I don’t think in any way that’s a pipe dream.” A lifetime ban, on the other hand, would permanently block someone from a specific profession. “You’re basically saying to someone, you cannot make a living this way,” McGehee said. “That’s a pretty harsh penalty.”

In her statement, [Elizabeth] Warren noted that federal law already includes a permanent ban on lobbying; the existing ban bars former government officials from lobbying the agencies they worked for on the specific issues they worked on while in office. “There’s no constitutional right to get paid to peddle influence—rightly so,” she said. Unless Congress acts, however, a court will never have to weigh the constitutionality of a lifetime lobbying ban for former legislators. “It’s not really even a partisan thing, because you basically have to get Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work together to limit what former Democrats and former Republicans in Congress can do,” said a former senior Obama administration official who now works in the corporate world and no longer weighs in publicly on political debates. “There’s just not that much appetite for it.”

What would SCOTUS do with a claim filed by an ex-congressman alleging that his First Amendment right to petition the government as an employee of a powerful lobbying firm had been infringed by a permanent ban? Would the Court uphold the ban on grounds that he remains free to petition his former colleagues, just not to be paid for the privileged, or would they strike it down? What about Charles Cooke’s point that passing a lobbying ban amounts to imposing a new qualification for congressional office, namely, agreeing to forfeit all employment as a federal lobbyist after you’re elected? That might be unconstitutional too: Under existing precedent, new requirements for office can’t be imposed via a simple statute like the one Cruz and AOC are proposing.

Even if the ban took effect, good luck enforcing it. Presumably ex-legislators would develop some formalistic workaround in which they’re hired on by corporate firms as “consultants” or whatever and then work the phones informally with their former colleagues in Congress. Still, it’s good politics, and if anyone can build bipartisan grassroots momentum for the effort, it’s Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez. Trump and his Democratic opponent will doubtless take an interest as well as we slide into another election cycle. Although if they’re serious about this, they’ll start talking up a constitutional amendment rather than a bill. That’s the only way to make it stick.

I’ll leave you with this. It’s really happening!