Jim McLean: Kansan Moran Quietly Bucking Trump

Jan 18, 2019
Originally published on January 18, 2019 12:57 pm

He’ll cringe when he reads this but, Republican U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran is part of “the resistance.”

Not always in obvious ways. Moreover, not in ways that come close to comforting those who view President Donald Trump as a clear and present danger to the nation.

But in his own quiet, Kansas way Moran resists the chaos of Trump’s Washington by advocating for a return to “regular order” in the U.S. Senate and the nation.

Different in style but still much like his late colleague, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

An institutionalist, Moran says there is no excuse for the federal shutdown. For the failure of Congress and the White House to negotiate compromises and fund the government.

Just before Christmas, Moran voted against a stopgap measure that would have averted a shutdown — but only for a few weeks. He said congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle had grown used to cutting corners, taking the easy way out. “Punting” instead of staying at the negotiating table and resolving differences.

“We’ve done this too many times,” he said.

Indeed, they have. Congress managed to pass all of its required appropriations bills only four times since the mid-1970s.

To resolve the current stalemate, Moran is urging his colleagues and the White House to agree to a compromise. One that would give the president some of the border security funding he wants in exchange for reinstating protections for undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children.

There are other examples of Moran breaking ranks.

Just the other day, despite pressure from the White House and GOP leaders, Moran voted with Senate Democrats to stop the administration from lifting some of the sanctions imposed on Russia for its attack on our democracy. His vote backed penalties on three companies controlled by oligarch closely tied to both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Paul Manafort, the one-time manager of Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Moran was one of only 11 Republican senators to support the resolution, which fell three votes short of the number needed to advance it to a final vote.

He also was quick to speak out when the New York Times reported recently that Trump was once again on the verge of pulling the U.S. out of NATO. Moran made his opposition clear, saying a “unified NATO alliance is essential to sustaining American security and prosperity.”

A few weeks earlier, Moran criticized the president’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. That decision triggered the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, whom Moran praised as a leader who provided needed “stability” during a time of “transition and uncertainty.”

Perhaps Moran’s most celebrated maverick moment came in July 2017 when he voted against an Obamacare repeal bill that Trump and Republican leaders desperately wanted. He cast his “no” vote on a procedural motion that temporarily stopped the repeal effort in its tracks.

Characteristically, Moran didn’t oppose replacing Obamacare with something else. He just didn’t like the closed-door process used to write the bill or that it was little more than a Republican power play.

“Trying to do something with one party alone is a mistake,” Moran told me at the time. “I’ve called for all 100 senators to be involved in the process by which we repeal and replace or we fix the Affordable Care Act.”

Moran the institutionalist. Imagine every member of the Senate — Republican and Democrat alike — participating in an open process of give-and-take resulting in something that resembles consensus on an important piece of legislation.

Naïve perhaps. Nevertheless, an ideal worth shooting for.

So there’s no misunderstanding, I’m not making the case that Jerry Moran is a one-man bulwark against the chaos and disorder of the Trump presidency.

He carefully picks his battles. And when he does speak up, his criticism of the president is often muted.

But that’s understandable. He’s a right-center Republican from a state that Trump carried by a wide margin. Plus, he’s cautious by nature. Just ask his congressional colleagues or those he served with in the Kansas Legislature.

But he’s also a Kansan. As such, he understands that much of what is under attack these days belongs to the legacy of fellow Kansan Dwight Eisenhower. The post-World War II order built by the U.S. and its European allies to defend democracy and keep the peace. 

Jim McLean is the chief political reporter for the Kansas News Service. He's covered politics and state government for more than 35 years. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks

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