Back in June 2016, when Republicans were preparing to anoint Donald Trump as their presidential nominee, a Washington Post columnist called Wyoming GOP Sen. John Barrasso “the anti-Trump.”
Yes, that comment is a real howler now, especially for Equality State residents accustomed to watching Barrasso drawn ever tighter into the president’s inner circle over the two years since Trump’s inauguration.
The writer, Ruth Marcus, is an adept political observer but she missed the boat in her description of Wyoming’s junior senator by a mile. In her profile of Barrasso, who was then head of the National Republican Platform Committee, she spelled out why she thought he was, “in short, the anti-Trump.”
“Not in the sense of being opposed to the presumptive nominee — he isn’t, although, like most of his GOP Senate colleagues, he scarcely exudes enthusiasm for Trump,” Marcus wrote. “But where Trump has dispensed campaign cash to both parties, veers from stance to stance and displays a hummingbird’s attention to specifics, Barrasso is resolutely conservative and serious about the enterprise.”
Barrasso and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) are both conservatives, but serious about the enterprise? I don’t think that applies to our delegation.
Both of our U.S. senators continually rubber-stamp whatever flabbergasting, vexing decisions emanate from the White House. There’s no better example than the votes they cast to support Trump’s disingenuous declaration of a “national emergency” so he can build his infamous border wall to stop the so-called invading hordes from Mexico.
In a true profile in courage, 12 Republican senators joined the Democrats in voting for a resolution rejecting Trump’s assault on the constitutionally determined balance of power. Trump promptly vetoed the measure, but anyone who thought there was a scintilla of a chance Enzi and Barrasso might part ways with the president hasn’t been paying attention to how they operate.
There was a time when both senators — like the framers of the Constitution — believed it necessary for the Senate to check and balance the executive branch.
That time, of course, was Democratic President Barack Obama’s eight years in office. Barrasso and Enzi were eager to defy that president and demonstrate that he couldn’t mess with the Senate.
In an excellent March 14 Casper Star-Tribune article, reporter Nick Reynolds recounted the many ways the pair took Obama to task. They fought his use of executive action to implement the Clean Power Plan, create significant immigration reforms, implement labor restrictions for children on family farms and enact gun control measures.
Barrasso sponsored a bill eight years ago to limit the Obama administration’s ability to issue executive orders without a review of their potential impacts.
In their most flagrant flexing of senatorial muscle, Enzi and Barrasso penned a joint op-ed column that said Obama wasn’t entitled to appoint U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland nearly a full year before he left office.
In other words, they’ve demonstrated that they know how to tell a president no, even if they have to buck the Constitution to do so — unless, apparently, that president is a lying demagogue.
It’s baffling to see both Wyoming senators march lock-step with Trump on the border issue, and not only because his boy-who-cried-immigrant claims of clear and present danger have been proven false.
The real head scratcher is their willingness to cede Congress’s most most powerful authority — the power of the purse. Enzi is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Is he not concerned at all that Trump has taken over and made the unilateral decision to fund his wall no matter what a majority in the House and Senate decide?
Well, Enzi admitted in an interview with Reynolds that Trump’s action could set “a bad precedent.” But that didn’t stop him from voting to let the president do whatever he wanted, Congress be damned.
Naturally Enzi and Barrasso both blamed Democrats for supposedly making Trump abuse his power.
Barrasso said he would have preferred “a legislative solution to this critical problem, however, Democrats who supported border barriers in the past refused to listen to border security experts and blocked the necessary funding.”
Here’s what three GOP senators with spine enough to stand up to Trump said about the “emergency” trump himself said he “didn’t need to do.”
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky: “Every single Republican I know decried President Obama’s use of executive power to legislate. We were right then. But the only way to be an honest officeholder is to stand up for the same principles no matter who is in power.”
Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania: “This is not about border security. It’s about the process the president has chosen for funding this policy. …The biggest concern is that it’s very, very important that we honor the constitutional responsibility that is assigned to Congress to determine spending.”
Sen. Susan Collins, Maine: “Mr. President, it is a solemn occasion involving whether or not this body will stand up for its institutional prerogatives and will support the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution.”
Last week several Republican senators also expressed their disdain for Trump’s unhinged ad hominem attacks on the late Sen. John McCain.
Never mind the loutish arrogance required for a draft-dodging president to attack a recently deceased war hero, patriot and statesman like McCain while his friends and family — including many senators — are still mourning. One should also consider why the heck he’s addressing a dead political rival instead of the manufacturing jobs headed overseas, the return of North Korea’s missile program, the Russian assault on American democracy, his habit of hiring criminals, or any of the other enormous challenges facing the nation. Does he not have anything better to do with his time and attention?
But there was nary a word of objection to Trump’s affront to decency from Barrasso or Enzi. I emailed their press secretaries and asked if the senators wanted to respond and got no response. If they won’t call him out for the insults and invectives he hurled at an honorable man they were fortunate to serve with, what on earth could this president do to get them upset enough to criticize him?
McCain even endorsed Enzi when future Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney challenged his re-election in 2014. Surely that should have merited some loyalty. But no, for Enzi, when it comes to the Constitution, the powers of Congress, or the honor of a fallen comrade, it’s Trump first.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump bragged that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any of his voters.
Based on how they’ve treated Trump so far in his imperial presidency, if they served on the jury I wouldn’t expect to see either Barrasso or Enzi vote to convict him of such an offense. I’m starting to think they couldn’t even work up the nerve to say, “Hey, Mr. President, maybe you shouldn’t have done that.”
I used to naively think that somehow there would be a price our conservative senators would pay for letting Trump disgrace this country by insulting women, minorities, veterans, clergy, the media, all Democrats, many Republican “enemies,” gold star families, our allies — just about everyone except Russian President Vladimir Putin and gangs of white supremacists.
But there will be no retribution from the majority of Wyoming voters for their silence. In this nearly one-party red state, Enzi and Barrasso will serve in the Senate as long as they want to, unless Trump tabs them to serve in his cabinet or appoints them as ambassadors — or, perhaps as likely, eventually turns on them too.
That either Barrasso or Enzi could ever be considered an “anti-Trump” is laughable, but the joke is on us. I wish they would prove me wrong at some point, but all the evidence shows this duo and the president are three peas living in the same frightening pod.
Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Casper and can be reached at [email protected]