I talked to Rep. Dave Brat by phone at 10:00 a.m. EST this morning to discuss last night’s House passage of the “cromnibus” bill supported by GOP leadership and President Obama.
Brat discussed why his “nay” vote was set in stone, his proposed amendment to the “cromnibus” banning funding of Obama’s executive amnesty (Brat gathered the support of 75 GOP reps, yet was not allowed to proceed by the Rules committee), and just what was happening on the floor in those final minutes, as it seemed many reps were still making up their minds.
Steinberg: Your vote, first and foremost, was against funding Obama’s executive action on amnesty. Why was that your overriding concern amongst all the concerns with this bill?
Brat: Because it rises to the Constitutional level. You can have serious policy disagreements that are utilitarian in nature, where you are calculating benefits and costs. But this one was intentionally illegal. The president clearly asserted that he didn’t have the authority. The GOP said on paper that his act was illegal.
Once that’s been established, I don’t see how I can go forward in principle and vote for something that’s illegal. You have to act immediately to defund, to get that illegal act halted as soon as possible.
Steinberg: So your biggest concern is that any of this strategic, political positioning that we are witnessing, that all must go out the window, and not be treated as legitimate act when it involves funding an illegal act.
Brat: That’s right. And, just to be consistent, there are other outstanding issues that rise to that level, other unconstitutional actions that need to be stopped as well. That doesn’t weaken this challenge, we just need to prioritize our strategy, basing it on those higher first principles.
Steinberg: Can you share with us the behind-the-scenes message from leadership used to persuade a “Yea” vote? I assume you didn’t get too much arm-twisting as you set your position in stone ahead of time, but what was leadership doing to win over GOP votes?
Were they only using fear of public backlash about a shutdown? Were you hearing any other arguments from leadership in favor of the bill?
Brat: The substantive argument on the GOP side was that a lot of this was not our own doing. We were forced into an omnibus situation because the Senate would not pick up any of the bills that the House has put forward, none of the appropriation bills. So when that’s the case, you’re left having to do this piecemeal approach which no one thinks is good process.
The test is, in moving forward, to see that the leadership goes toward regular order, and deals with this executive overreach. They promised they would do that, and I think they are going to do it.
Steinberg: Pete Sessions [chairman of Rules committee] guaranteed an amendment in January after the new congress takes the oath, an amendment halting the amnesty action to be added to a bill and voted on in January. We heard little about that prior to this morning, was that plan known of prior to last night’s vote?
Brat: He promised that to us on Wednesday night, the evening we brought our proposed amendment to Rules. He put it in strong language, he said: “This is not a pledge, it’s my promise that we will put the Mulvaney amendment on to the defense bill coming in January.”
Steinberg: Do you think that promise may have helped contribute to winning some “yea” votes?
Brat: It’s tough to say, the process has been so chaotic over the last day that I don’t know if I could answer credibly. It certainly could have helped the cause, but it was still frustrating because we had 75 people sign on to our amendment already.
When the process comes down to an entire omnibus bill being given to members one day before a vote, with 1600 pages, and with not fundamentally dealing with a constitutional overreach by the president, that’s the predicament members found themselves in. Its hard to assess the political calculations from last night.
Steinberg: Can you bring us up to speed with what happened with the amendment you, Rep. Mulvaney, and Rep. Salmon brought up? It’s not clear on what happened, you brought an amendment to the Rules committee prohibiting funding of Obama’s executive amnesty, you had 75 members signed on, and were told by Rules that it was too late to allow any amendments to the omnibus?
Brat: That’s essentially it. We heard from the Rules committee that they had pretty much agreed that they would not allow any amendments at this late date. I don’t know if that’s factual, I don’t know if any amendments did in fact make it in, but that was the rationale that we were given.
You can understand that sentiment when you have only one day to consider the bill, but in my mind this issue is an exception, as it rises to the Constitutional level.
Steinberg: Is there a next step for you in halting amnesty, halting Obamacare? Is it the Sessions’ promise?
Brat: Yes, we had 75 members who came together in just one day to support our amendment. I think that number is only going to grow with the new Congress. The speaker has agreed to take it on immediately in January. I’m optimistic that our side has got the memo.
Boehner did say that he heard the American people loud and clear, that he will take it up. I’m optimistic that we are going to take strong action on it.
Steinberg: From a citizen’s viewpoint watching this play out last night, there were some 50 to 80 votes that had not been registered as time ran out, and from what we could see taking place on the floor via CSPAN, there was still some negotiating, some arm-twisting taking place there at the literal last minute.
When we have a vote that represents such a stark difference in philosophy between “yea” and “nay,” it can be infuriating, baffling. We can’t understand how that can be occurring down there on the floor. You set your vote in stone early on, it’s hard to imagine how others didn’t. Do you think votes were still being decided down there at the very end?
Brat: It seemed to me most of the votes were in, maybe 20 folks down there, individual members making very hard decisions based on their district, on this issue that rises to a constitutional level, issues that have to do with committees they sit on.
It’s because this was an omnibus bill. It is an excruciating choice some were left with in this omnibus situation.
Steinberg: So it’s the bill – with such a large, complex bill, you think that contributes to this maddening situation.
Brat: Yes, yes – there’s 1600 pages of issues. No one agrees with all of it, even with huge pieces of it. Some of that is politics, but it seems to me the American people are getting pretty fed up with that kind of process. That’s why they put the Republicans in!
That’s why its absolutely crucial that come January, we send the right message on process, on Obamacare, on amnesty, overreach, overregulation on the small businessperson. They want immediate relief. They don’t want to hear that we will deal with it in a year or two. They want immediate relief so their business can survive. We must send the right message on the big-ticket items that the American people were very clear on in November.
Steinberg: As far as that goes, on process: do you think we’re facing a legal, constitutional issue just with the process of considering a bill so large and in such a small amount of time that no representative is able to properly consider it in representation of his or her constituents?
Brat: Yes, I believe Rand Paul actually proposed a bill establishing something like one day of consideration for every 30 pages of legislation. On common sense grounds, a bill like that is needed, it makes perfect sense.
And its also conservative in nature, as it prevents excessive regulation and legislation from moving through the process. While I hate to have the process be micromananged, obviously the alternative, what we saw last night, is worse.
Steinberg: Thanks for your time, Dave.
Brat: Absolutely, thank you for calling.