Politics & Policy

The Republican Congress Has a Mandate

It was not elected to make Washington “work” but to keep Washington from working against Americans.

The Republican party’s conservative base has a major problem. In assessing the 2014 midterm elections, a tidal wave in which the base propelled the GOP to substantial majorities in both houses of Congress, conservatives are in full agreement with President Obama and completely at odds with Republican leadership.

The president boldly declared that, while he was not on the ballot, his policies were. He could not have been more right.

GOP leadership boldly declares that the election was a case of voters trusting Republicans with an opportunity to “prove we can govern” — to demonstrate that GOP lawmakers can work effectively with the president. They could not be more wrong.

November was all about Obama’s liberty-strangling, crony-coddling, financially reckless agenda. Voters emphatically defeated these policies. The American people want them stopped. That is what they sent Republicans to Washington to do. That is the mandate from the midterms.

Consequently, it is also the clarion call of the Citizens’ Mandate from the November 2014 Elections, issued on Thursday by conservative leaders from across the United States. The title of the Citizens’ Mandate is straightforward: “Stop the Fundamental Transformation of America.”

To “fundamentally transform the United States of America” was the vow Barack Obama made on the eve of his first election in 2008. Thankfully, it turns out that the vast majority of Americans love their country the way it is. We do not want it transformed — much less “fundamentally” so. We do not deny that we have problems, as every human society always does. We also believe, however, that human freedom — the God-given liberty secured by our Constitution — is the best problem-solving device ever created.

We also know that Washington, as it has dramatically expanded, particularly over the last six years, is more apt to cause problems than to solve them.

Because the president has been determined to transform a nation that does not wish to be transformed, he has had to do it in contravention of our laws and constitutional processes. Obviously, changing our Constitution, our laws, and our traditions is what “fundamental transformation” is about. Because the president’s opposition in Congress has been feckless, he has succeeded in governing imperiously, against the will of the people. And he has been emboldened to do more of the same.

The election was about stopping him.

The people who gave Republicans their resounding victory are not foolish enough to believe Republicans can “govern.” GOP leaders who profess to be “constitutional conservatives” should realize that our system is not designed that way. Governing, the day-to-day execution of law and policy, is principally the task of the executive branch.

Of course, Congress can do a great deal to influence how the nation is governed. It can legislate expressions of the popular will. It can conduct oversight hearings to hold the administration accountable. It can use the Senate’s exclusive power over confirmation of executive and judicial nominees to exclude radical candidates and exercise leverage against executive overreach. It can exploit the power of the purse to stop lawless or misguided presidential initiatives and halt the expansion of government.

But Congress cannot govern.

Republicans will not be able to govern unless and until there is a Republican in the White House. The voters who elected Republicans do not expect them to govern for the next two years. Those voters expect Republicans to stop the policies that Americans overwhelmingly rejected in November. Americans don’t need Washington to “work”; they need Washington to stop working against them.

The mandate of the election is to repeal Obamacare in a rational way. Voters understand that the president would veto a repeal of his signature “achievement” and that, despite being trounced in the midterms, Democrats still have the congressional numbers to defeat an override. Republicans, however, are far from powerless. They can use the power of the purse to defund aspects of Obamacare; they can legislate free-market alternatives that show the nation there is a better way than Washington central planning to provide affordable health care that gives consumers the doctors and coverage of their choice while promoting medical innovation. Indeed, with Obamacare facing daunting court challenges in the coming months, it is essential that Republicans be ready with a market-based rather than government-dictated response.

The mandate of the election is to use the power of the purse to stop President Obama’s lawless decree of amnesty for illegal aliens. Contrary to bipartisan Beltway wisdom, opposition to policies that reward and encourage illegal immigration is not anti-immigrant. It is pro–rule of law, pro–national security, pro–legal immigration, and pro–American worker. The collusion between the post-American Left and crony-capitalist Republicans has yielded a stubborn non-enforcement of immigration law that punishes the middle class. Citizens with only a high-school education are already markedly worse off than they were a generation ago; they stand to see their wages further depressed if Congress does not stop the president’s illegal conferral of work permits for millions of amnestied illegal aliens. Illegal immigration is a difficult challenge. It must be addressed by thoughtful legislation that prioritizes American economic and security interests, not by executive fiats that prioritize increasing the Democratic party’s political base.

The mandate of the election is to reestablish a foreign policy that puts American interests and American national security first. That means being unafraid to acknowledge that our most immediate threat comes from jihadist terrorism that is driven by Islamic-supremacist ideology. It means understanding that Islamic countries that promote Islamic supremacism and jihadist terror are hostile to the United States and must be treated as such — in particular, Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of anti-American terrorism. President Obama bends over backward to accommodate the mullahs and indulge their nuclear-power ambitions; it is the duty of the Republican-led Congress to stop him . . . and them.

The mandate of the election is Peace Through Strength. That means ending President Obama’s hollowing out of our armed forces – at a time when, quite clearly, the threats to America and our allies are real, and growing. Conservatives are for limited government, not small government. The Constitution makes the federal government responsible for only a few things, but they are crucial things – and none more crucial than our national security. We must have a military that is up to the task of ensuring it, not because we are “the world’s policeman” but because global security is essential to American prosperity. Obviously, we must not shrink from making adult choices: The federal government will have to scale back the jobs it shouldn’t be doing to attend to the job we need it to do. But a foreign policy based on American interests would reflect that America must lead — and not from behind.

The mandate of the election is to stop corporate welfare and dismantle the corrupting Washington network of government, lobbyists, and business. Conservatives are not so much pro-business as pro–free markets, meaning: free of government intrusion, especially Washington’s picking of winners and losers (where the Beltway’s favored businesses win and the taxpayer loses).

The mandate of the election is about holding the Obama administration accountable. We still do not have a definitive determination of the policies and decisions that led to the terrorist murders of four Americans in Benghazi. The Obama administration is still obstructing Congress’s probe of the reckless Fast and Furious program, which contributed mightily to violent crime by Mexican gangs, including the murder of an American border-patrol agent. Congress has failed to get to the bottom of the politically driven IRS intimidation and harassment of conservative groups. These investigations must be pursued to conclusion. Republicans must not take stonewalling for an answer.

The mandate of the election is to halt and begin rolling back the expansion of Washington’s usurpation of state power and individual liberty — particularly in education (e.g., the implementation of Common Core), firearms rights, health care, and the conduct of business activity (such as the radical NLRB’s recent effort to redefine what it means to be an “employer” — the better to impose unions on small firms and fast-food businesses).

The mandate of the election is to stop President Obama’s abuse of power.

So, will the Republican-led Congress stop it . . . or codify it? The first signals are not encouraging. In the dreadful lame-duck congressional session, Republicans demoralized the conservative base that provided their resounding midterm victory. They surrendered the power of the purse until the end of this year, fully funded Obamacare, advanced the president’s lawless amnesty for illegal aliens, and facilitated crony capitalism — the air of insider dealing that greatly contributes to the disdain in which depressingly large numbers of Americans hold the federal government.

Conservatives fear that Republicans, with their eyes on 2016 and their ears on professional political consultants, have drawn the wrong lesson from last November’s good fortune. Voters are not suddenly infatuated with Republicans. Voters are alarmed at the direction in which President Obama is taking the country, and they elected the only available alternative.

The fate of 2016’s race for the White House will be decided by how well Republicans heed the mandate of 2014’s referendum on Obama’s policies. Will Republicans use the next two years to stop the president? If, instead, they use the next two years to further enable the president’s fundamental transformation of the United States, they will not have convinced the country that they can govern. They will have convinced their base that they are not worthy of support.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.


The Latest