Washington Watch: An Interview With Rick Manning

Breaking down the chaos in the capital …

In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a lot going on in our nation’s capital right now.  And while we like to think we have our finger on the pulse of the big issues bearing down on Washington, D.C., the truth is we don’t.  Accordingly, we rely on friends who are fully immersed in the district – experts with the experience, insight and access – to help us make heads or tails of what’s really happening.

One of them?  Rick Manning.

Rick is president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG), a pro-freedom, pro-free market conservative advocacy group that this news outlet has featured on several occasions over the years.

To say Rick is in the middle of everything that’s going on in Washington is an understatement.  Just this week, in fact, he was at the White House for a private briefing on the immigration issue featuring U.S. president Donald Trump, vice president Mike Pence and other top administration officials.  He also meets regularly with GOP leaders in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Our founding editor Will Folks sat down with Rick this week to get his thoughts on a host of different topics …

Here is their conversation …

WILL FOLKS: First things first, Rick: Talk to us about last week’s incredible jobs report. You used to work at the U.S. Department of Labor, so you have some real insight into this data.  How good was last week’s print?  And what does it mean for the direction of the U.S. economy moving forward?

RICK MANNING: The numbers were pretty incredible.  Over the first two years of the Trump presidency, 4.8 million new jobs have been created, including more than 500,000 in the manufacturing sector.  Wages are rising faster than inflation, and ‘help wanted’ signs outnumber job seekers.  In fact this last point is the most significant one.  The jobs numbers showed that Americans are beginning to break loose of the fear that if they leave a job, they won’t be able to get a new and better one.  This mental unbinding of people from jobs they feel strapped to out of economic fear is the freedom of mobility that both increases personal happiness but also allows the flow of labor necessary for a healthy economy.

FOLKS: Speaking of the economy, you were on the front lines of the trade battle back in 2015.  It was actually your organization – Americans for Limited Government – that produced a radio spot during the early days of the GOP primary slamming “Obamatrade” that starred none other than Donald Trump.  Tell us a little bit about how you connected Trump to the issue, how the trade issue helped Trump win the White House – and what you think of Trump’s trade policies since taking office.

MANNING: I had a problem.  We were moving a number of conservative Republicans into the category of questioning whether giving then-President Obama fast track trade authority was a good idea – and then one night I received a phone call from Senator Ted Cruz’s chief of staff telling me that the Senator was signing an opinion piece along with Speaker Paul Ryan supporting fast track.  The results were predictable and the balance started shifting against my position that trade deals should be treated like the treaties they are, requiring a two-thirds vote for approval in the Senate.  I approached Donald Trump a few days later asking him to voice an ad opposing fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and he said yes immediately.  Within a week we were up on the air in South Carolina and New Hampshire with the ads, along with some nationwide coverage.  And while Congress did narrowly pass fast track, a majority of the GOP presidential candidates came out either opposed or “concerned” about the TPP, a dramatic change in the political atmosphere surrounding the issue.  Ironically, when the final vote came down, Senator Cruz voted against giving President Obama fast track authority after reviewing the contents of the TPP.

Now, President Trump has gotten us out of the TPP, but he has retained fast track authority which we will see used to push a rewrite of NAFTA – which will significantly advantage US manufacturers and workers over the previous bill.  Most significantly, the President is renegotiating trade relations with Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the European Union as well as engaging in tough negotiations to realign our trade relationship with China.  Americans can be certain that for the first time since Ronald Reagan was president, they have someone in the White House who is working tirelessly to restore America’s economic might.

(Click to view)

(Via: The White House)

FOLKS: Obviously, a partial shutdown of the federal government is in effect right now.  Trump took ownership of this shutdown initially, but it seems more recently that he has backed off of some of those definitive statements.  Your media outlet – The Daily Torch – has been framing this issue as one of choices, specifically Democrats choosing illegal aliens over food stamp recipients.  How do you think this debate is playing out? How long will the partial shutdown last? And what kind of deal will ultimately be required to resolve it?

MANNING: Yesterday I, along with about ten other people, received a briefing from the President himself, the V.P., the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget on the situation at the border and what can be done about it.  Funding a tall and strong steel barrier is only part of the solution they are offering the Democrats.  To address the humanitarian crisis at the border they are urging funding for more medical and other care supplies, beds and overall capabilities to meet the needs of those awaiting adjudication.  Part of this request is for a dramatic increase in immigration judges to tackle the four year back-log in asylum requests (equal to more than 800,000 people).  They are also requesting more funds for ICE and Border Patrol officers, as well as tech tools to interdict drug smuggling.  There is a national emergency as about 80 percent of the extremely deadly synthetic drug fentanyl is coming across our southern border, and our agents have seized enough of this deadly substance to kill every man, woman and child in America.  Last year alone, we lost 60,000 people to opioid overdoses, and our porous southern border is at least partially responsible for this calamity.

Additionally, we saw approximately 1,000 known terrorists captured trying to enter our nation across the southern border and it is reasonable to assume that many, many more were not caught.

FOLKS: Three words: Speaker Nancy Pelosi. How did the GOP let that happen? And what can Republicans do to win back the House in 2020?

MANNING: The House GOP decided that they did not need to push forward limited government ideas and principles during the past two years.  The current appropriations bills that have led to the government shutdown are good examples.  Republicans in Congress made a calculated effort to effectively give the Democrats veto authority over the spending bills and in doing so, Obama’s priorities continued to be funded.  The President proposed a budget which would have gotten our nation’s finances to balance in less than a decade, but instead Congress saddled him with a spending monstrosity which he objected to but eventually signed.  Unfortunately, as often happens politicians and their staffs spend their time and live in DC, and as a result, they lose who they are because their echo chamber at church, in their neighborhoods and at work all revolves around big government.  That is why it often times seems as though the swamp wins regardless, but take heart we are getting some wins,, one of which prohibits the Department of Housing and Urban Development from using census maps to force local governments to change zoning decisions.  Keeping local zoning in the hands of your local officials is essential if we are going to maintain any semblance of federalism in the modern world, and I am proud to say that Americans for Limited Government fought that fight almost by ourselves and emerged victorious.

FOLKS: Good stuff.  Okay, I’m just going to put these two words out there and back away from the tape recorder (which I trust you won’t smash or melt with fire): Mitt Romney. What’s up with that guy?

MANNING: Mitt Romney seems determined to be a problem for the President and given the slim majority in the Senate, if he chooses to try to obstruct everything, he could be a monkey wrench to the President’s nominees getting through the Senate. I will leave the pyscho-analyzing to others, but it really isn’t a good look for a former GOP nominee who was virtually silent in criticizing his Democratic opponent for the White House to suddenly become energized against a President of his own party.  Hopefully, he will get over whatever emotional distress he is feeling and be a productive member of the Senate rather than a bitter obstructionist.

(Click to view)

(Via: Gage Skidmore)

FOLKS: Look into your political crystal ball, Rick.  Does any credible Republican run against Trump next year?  And on the Democratic side, who do you think is best positioned to become the nominee in 2020?  Any other thoughts as to how the upcoming White House campaign is shaping up?

MANNING: They might run, but in speaking with people much more familiar with the RNC nominating rules than I am, it will be virtually impossible to win with changes that have been put in place by former Chairman Reince Preibus.  If I had to put money down on any one candidate on the Democrat side, it would be Senator Kamala Harris from California.  This is based upon a simple change that is happening in their nominating process – they are attempting to move California’s primary up giving the Golden state a huge, deciding impact on the nomination.  In addition, the cost of running in California is so prohibitive, only a candidate with high voter identification numbers and the ability to come into the primary fight with $100 million in campaign or outside group expenditures will be able to compete.  This obviously benefits Harris as a statewide elected official who should have enough Hollywood support to be able to fund a significant campaign.

FOLKS: Let’s talk judges for a moment.  It seems as though Trump has had some issues getting several of his more qualified judicial nominees through the Senate – which could bode poorly for the next Supreme Court opening.  His position should be vastly improved with the GOP adding two seats during the 2018 election, but what has been the problem with these appointments?

MANNING: Obviously the Democrats have made it clear in their treatment of someone who actually was a top of his class, Ivy League, Bush approved, choir boy – Brett Kavanaugh – that the days of bi-partisan comity are over on the judicial nominations front.  Recently, Democrats have succeeded in at least partially submarining a couple of quality conservative nominees through a whisper campaign that the nominees were racists, which caused South Carolina Senator Tim Scott to withhold his support even in one case after voting to bring him to the floor a day or two earlier.

FOLKS: You mentioned Tim Scott. Obviously, he is one of our Senators here in South Carolina and we have written a few times on his involvement in these confirmation battles.  Let’s talk about this Justice Department report that was the basis for his decisive vote against Thomas Farr, Trump’s pick for a district judgeship in North Carolina.  Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t that report contain some information exonerating Farr?

MANNING: Yes, that is the frustrating thing.  In today’s ‘guilty until proven innocent’ environment in D.C., even a Justice Department report examining concerns raised for partisan purposes – which exonerated someone – is not enough to undo the damage done. One would hope that Senator Scott would read the report and sit down with Mr. Farr one-on-one to address any concerns he may still have.  This is particularly important since his senior Senator from South Carolina, Lindsay Graham, will be holding the gavel of the Judiciary Committee for the upcoming two years.

FOLKS: What is your advice to Senator Scott? We know he has done some relationship damage with his colleagues in Washington – and with his constituents back home – over some of these judicial votes. What would you say to him as far as handling these votes moving forward?

MANNING: I hope that he realizes that he has a unique role as the only Republican Senator who is black and would proceed cautiously when racial charges are whispered in his ear by his Democrat colleagues. I would hope that he shows the respect to his fellow Republicans and the GOP nominee(s) to fully evaluate any charges that will inevitably arise, speak directly with the accused and make certain that he is fully informed.  In terms of Tom Farr, I hope that he will sit down in his office and have a long talk with the nominee, fully read the report, talk to his colleagues, particularly Graham who voted Farr out of the Judiciary Committee and rethink his opposition.  I think that is the fair thing for him to do, and from everything I hear, he is a fair man, so that should not be seen as unreasonable.




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