Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has stepped over the line.
Sen. Cornyn has taken the nomination of Russ Vought to be Deputy Director of President Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) hostage under the pretext that he wants more hurricane relief money for Texas from the Trump administration. If done in the private sector, this would be defined as extortion, yet it is a common practice in Washington, DC.
The true reason for the hold likely is far more disturbing. It might be that Sen. Cornyn’s actions are motivated by revenge – revenge against an arm of The Heritage Foundation (Heritage Action for America) for setting up a scorecard of votes. Also, revenge against the conservative movement for being critical of the Senate leadership’s feckless efforts to implement the Trump agenda. If true, it is sad that establishment Senators think they can use the power of government to exact revenge against opponents.
One irony in this fight is that Russ Vought originally was a staffer for Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) – Sen. Cornyn’s predecessor. Sen. Cornyn replaced Sen. Gramm in 2002, after Gramm retired. Vought also served the people of Texas by working for Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) when he was head of the Republican Study Committee. After years of service to the people of Texas, Sen. Cornyn has decided to pay back Vought by denying him Senate confirmation to serve in the Trump administration.
One would expect a liberal Democrat – not a member of the Republican leadership – to hold up Vought’s nomination.
According to Axios:
Vought is a top White House priority and is considered a leader in the conservative movement. Social conservatives rallied around him and his profile exploded after his confirmation hearing in June when he clashed with Sen. Bernie Sanders over his religious beliefs. Vought wrote a blog post in which he described his Christian faith and said that those who do not accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior “stand condemned.” Sanders then accused him of “racism and bigotry” because of that post.
Vought has been attacked by left wing Senators for being a devout Christian. One would think that Sen. Cornyn could put aside his petty fight with the conservative movement to protect a Christian nominee from anti-Christian attacks. It would not have been a surprise for socialist Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or left-winger Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to hold up a nominee for his Christian beliefs. Republicans in the Senate should be pushing this nomination as a way to protect religious freedom and the idea that a nominee expressing his religious beliefs should not be a disqualifier to serve in the executive branch of the federal government. This hold serves the purposes of many on the anti-Christian left who want to paint all Christians as hate mongers.
According to Jonathan Swann of Axios on October 19, 2017:
Texas Sen. John Cornyn is frustrating both administration officials and conservative movement leaders by holding up the confirmation of Russ Vought to be Mick Mulvaney’s right hand man at the Office of Management and Budget. Cornyn — a member of Senate leadership who has a strong say over the floor schedule — has made it clear that Vought will be held up until he gets more funding for Texas’ hurricane relief, according to three sources close to the situation. It’s unclear how Cornyn has phrased his demand or how much extra money, exactly, he’s asking for, but his message has been heard loud and clear by top Trump administration officials.
This expressed reason to hold up Vought’s nomination is likely a ruse. Russ Vought was a former staffer for Heritage Action for America, the sister organization of The Heritage Foundation, and this may be Cornyn’s way of paying back the organization for putting together a scorecard of votes. Heritage Action’s tough scorecard of votes for Members of Congress has angered some moderate Republicans. Senator Cornyn has a pathetic 47% Heritage Action score and he may be so embarrassed about his score that he, and his staff, are exacting revenge.
Senator Cornyn has the power to “hold” a nominee by threatening to filibuster and object to all agreements expediting Vought’s nomination. To get a nominee passed, it is common practice in the Senate to get the consent of all members to schedule a vote. In this case, Sen. Cornyn is the only known Senator objecting to Vought’s confirmation to serve at OMB.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with Senators holding up the confirmation of nominees, if they oppose confirmation. Also, sometimes a Senator will hold up a nominee to demand documents, testimony, or to force executive branch to take certain actions when they support confirmation of a nominee. This is a different type of case.
Sen. Cornyn’s request makes little sense, because Congress can include more money for Texas in the upcoming appropriations or supplemental hurricane relief bills expected to be cleared later this year. The Administration will have little to do with the crafting of the appropriations legislation, because it will be in the domain of the legislative branch of the federal government to pass bills.
Sen. Cornyn should be the one on the Senate floor demanding a vote for a proud Christian nominee who would not back off when pushed to walk away from his Christian beliefs during Vought’s confirmation hearing – not blocking it.