Donald Trump

How Anti-Trump Republicans Can Change the President's Behavior

Cory Gardner used confirmation holds to force a potential breakthrough on marijuana federalism. There's a lesson there.


Is there a character more derided in modern American politics than the anti-Trump Republican?

Consider soon-to-retire Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a possible primary challenger to Donald Trump in 2020 and author of a bestseller attacking the president's America-first ideology. When Flake responded to the administration's brutish comments about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by tweeting "Fellow Republicans, this is not who we are," the condemnation was swift and brutal — from the left.

"This is exactly who you are," the Splinter's Emma Roller snapped back. "Flake's criticism of Trump's G-7 antics is a sham," hissed Think Progress. Hand-wringing GOP senators such as Flake, John McCain and Susan Collins, charged the activists at Blue Virginia, are just a bunch of melodramatic Democracy Peacocks — all plume, no teeth.

The best version of these critiques is that Flake and his cohort should, you know, do something. So it's interesting to examine the successful tactics of a Republican senator who did just that — Colorado's first-term Sen. Cory Gardner.

Gardner, 43, is a former House GOP "Young Gun" known for being more problem-solver than bomb-thrower. He displayed both talents, however, in managing to convince a law-and-order president who appointed a drug-warrior attorney general to come out in favor of leaving legal marijuana alone.

In a wide-ranging back-and-forth with reporters at the end of last week, President Trump was asked whether he supported a bipartisan bill introduced by Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act — which would make the federal Controlled Substances Act inapplicable in states where pot-related activity has been legalized.

"I really do," Trump said. "I support Sen. Gardner. I know exactly what he's doing. We're looking at it, but we'll probably end up supporting that, yes."

While nothing in Trumpworld is guaranteed until the ink is dry, this could be a huge turning point against the long-ruinous drug war. How did Gardner work this magic? By doing something Republicans excelled at when Barack Obama was president but which they have largely ignored since: Using every bit of leverage they command to frustrate a power-wielding president.

Gardner went berserk in January when Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions announced in January that he was rescinding the Justice Department's 2013 memo guiding U.S. attorneys to de-prioritize federal enforcement against state-legal marijuana operations. Colorado had voted to legalize recreational marijuana in November 2012, and had begun legal sales in January 2014. Gardner wasn't in favor of legalization in 2012, but in 2018 he was ready to defend his state's law.

"I believe that what happened today is a trampling of Colorado's rights," he said in a podium-thumping speech after Sessions' decision was made public. Prior to the attorney general's confirmation, Gardner charged, he had promised that the 2013 memo would not be rescinded and that pot enforcement would not be an administration priority.

"Until he lives up to that commitment," Gardner said, "I will be holding all nominations to the Department of Justice."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) likes to say that the world's greatest deliberative body is largely in the "personnel business," moving briskly through the confirmation of judges, Cabinet members and lower-level executive branch appointments. Gardner gummed up that machinery for three months by using his parliamentary ability to place a hold on a nomination, a barrier that can only be overcome through a time-sapping cloture vote.

It took about 20 holds for Trump to crack. In April, Gardner issued a news release saying he had obtained a verbal commitment from the president to support legislation protecting states that legalized marijuana from federal drug law enforcement, despite his attorney general's proclivities. The president's comment last week was an indication that the promise will have more staying power than, say, Trump's "firm commitment" to Flake to work together on a solution to the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program in exchange for Flake's yes-vote on last year's tax cut.

So is Gardner's form of hostage-taking scalable? It's certainly worth a try among Trump-averse Republicans in the Senate, given that chamber's slim 51-47-2 GOP majority (with the two independents caucusing with Democrats). But there are some unique aspects to the presidential buy-in on pot legalization.

First, Trump favored state decision-making about marijuana when he was on the campaign trail. Second, keeping the feds out of the enforcement business in pot-legal states is widely popular — 70% in an April Quinnipiac poll. (Straight-up legalization is now polling at 63%, a percentage no president has ever achieved in the popular vote.) And finally, let's not forget that Trump isn't exactly shy about tweaking Jeff Sessions.

Favorable conditions aside, Gardner clearly forced the issue. The Senate is designed to be obstructionist, to thwart the ambitions of presidents and House members who want to get things done fast. For those senators who consider the president a challenge to the fundamental ideas of conservatism, Gardner's example is instructive. Instead of merely standing athwart C-SPAN's view of history yelling "stop," they should use the power the Constitution and the Senate's rule book gives them and stick out a foot when the president walks by.

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

NEXT: Brickbat: Get on the Bus

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  1. If there is any evidence that Pres. Trump is curbing his authoritarian, backward, drug-warring attorney general and administration with respect to drugs in general and marijuana in particular, I will credit Sen. Gardner and Pres. Trump.

    Pres. Trump’s vague promises — like all faith-based arguments — do not constitute evidence, however, for anyone other than our society’s most gullible, discredited, and useless participants.

    1. I won’t even go as far as giving Drumpf any credit if it happens. As has been well documented by now, the Drumpf regime is an asset of a hostile foreign power ? that would be Russia, for those not paying attention ? and everything it does is directed by Putin. If the US totally ends the federal ban on marijuana, it will only be because the Kremlin wants it that way. Perhaps Putin himself plans to financially benefit from legal weed in the US? Rachel Maddow should investigate this possibility.


      1. OBL responding to the Reverend on a “newly woke” Matt Welch article is peak Reason

        1. The Nick Gillespie of “libertarian” publications

  2. Trump and Sessions are going after the people who don’t live in the free states even harder than was done under Obama. They’ve bought on a record amount of prosecutors and there charging people in the harshest possible way. Fuck Republicans. Fucking evil things.

    1. *They’re

      1. Obama’s DOJ should get a lot of credit for allowing the country to feel out the issue.

        That said, they were pretty much lawless on a lot of issues, while Sessions is a straight up law and order kind of guy. Hate him or not.

        Anger should be directed at Congress on this, they need to get the law passed. Trump will sign it and Sessions will follow it. Those two things are obvious and all we really need from the executive if Congress does it’s job.

        1. Which btw makes Welch’s argument ridiculous. As usual. Trump will sign, Sessions will follow… but let’s attack Trump!

          1. You got to get that woke street cred somehow. Ditching any semblance of principles seems to be the route Welch choose

  3. I liked Flake when he represented my district in the House. But when he went to the Senate, he got the political equivalent of a sex-change operation, siding with warmonger McCain on every issue.

    1. Flake and McCain are egomaniacs and divas.

      They both used to be worthy of praise at one point in their lives, but the people they have become are not the people they were. Both are scumbags now.

      1. McCain used to be worthy of praise at one point in his life?

        When was this, when he was still a fetus?

        1. Was thinking more his pow stuff but that is contested too I suppose.

  4. Trump will support almost anything if you ask him. the problem is most people just attack him leaving him no place to go but on the defense. Few are willing to talk. Its very mush the way everyone on the left treats anyone who has an opposing view

  5. I know how they can change his behavior, stop attacking him long enough to talk to the guy. These idiots were here when the same problems existed before. Trump is willing to talk and compromise, they just want to throw shade. Remember he was willing to give 3 million on DACA and Democrats/RINOs spit on the deal.

  6. A bill to force adhering to the Constitution, who’d have thought it possible in today’s polarized world?

    What a truly great idea!

  7. Why would anyone want to change Trump’s behavior?

    Trump is rolling back more regulation than any president in over a 100 years.

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