Simpson not joining ‘feel-good’ chorus for Trump

January 23, 2017
Chuck Malloy

Congressman Mike Simpson, the embodiment of the Republican congressional establishment when John Boehner was riding high in the House speaker’s chair, is the new maverick in the Idaho congressional delegation. At least when it comes to Donald Trump’s presidency.

Meanwhile, Congressman Raul Labrador — the one-time bad boy of the delegation for wanting to shake up Washington and chase away the likes of Boehner from leadership — has emerged as a leader of the “new” establishment.

Again, when it comes to President Trump. Labrador campaigned vigorously for the winning candidate during the stretch run of the campaign and was interviewed by Trump for the Interior secretary’s job. Labrador could be one of Trump’s key allies during the early stages of his administration.

“My agenda has much in common with our new president’s plans and I look forward to a very productive partnership,” Labrador wrote in a recent newsletter.

It’s much different with Simpson. Three weeks before the election, after the release of that infamous “Access Hollywood” recording, Simpson declared Trump unfit to serve as president. Apparently, he has not backed away from that view. His office did not respond to my request to interview him or provide an update on his position.

Idaho’s two senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, had harsh comments after the “Access Hollywood” episode. Crapo pulled his endorsement of Trump but came back to the fold before the election. Both senators, as with most other Republicans, are celebrating the beginning of Trump’s presidency and especially the end of Barack Obama’s.

“I want to give him every opportunity to succeed and will help him in any way that I can,” Risch told me. “This was a change that was engineered by the people of America. Politicians didn’t do it. The institutions didn’t do it. The people of America did it, against all odds and all predictions.”

Crapo sees the new administration as an opportunity to make government more efficient and the national defense stronger. “Action like this puts him in step with what I have heard from many Idahoans,” Crapo said.

Simpson’s view, no doubt, would be applauded by Democratic Congressman John Lewis, who questions the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency. It may not sit so well with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was one of the “establishment” Republicans eating crow after Trump won the election. But that’s what a lot of people like about Simpson. He says what’s on his mind and doesn’t buckle to political pressure.

Simpson can afford to be his own man. In Idaho’s 2nd District, Simpson is the man in the high castle — more powerful than the collective forces of Trump, Ryan, and the Republican Party’s rank-and-file. His seat on House Appropriations is a magnet for campaign contributions, and the mainstream media in his district love him. Detractors will complain about him, but they can’t beat him.

The only thing missing from his high castle is a moat.

Simpson hasn’t totally abandoned his party. Recently he joined his fellow Republicans in taking the first step to repeal Obamacare — describing his action as creating a path for “real healthcare reform that puts decisions back into the hands of families, patients and doctors.”

But if Trump is unfit for the presidency, how can anyone expect him to come up with a viable alternative to Obamacare — or do anything constructive, for that matter? In Simpson’s mind, apparently, the new era in American politics gives us a presidency that’s doomed for failure.

The three other members of Idaho’s congressional delegation, as with Simpson, have safe seats. But unlike Simpson, they are not poking their fingers in the eyes of their Republican base.

“We’re going to be much more secure with Donald Trump as president,” Risch says. “We have the most powerful military in the world, and we’re going to use it — but only if we have to and only after every alternative has failed.” Risch says that former President Obama did not inspire that level of confidence.

Crapo thinks the new administration, working with a GOP majority in Congress, can get a grip on spending, government regulations and a tax code that he describes as “unfair and anticompetitive.”

Labrador sees the Trump presidency and Republican majorities as “a mandate from the people to change business as usual in Washington.”

Simpson’s message is not so uplifting to Republicans in his district who overwhelmingly supported Trump in the last election. But he remains true to himself.

Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly and an editorial writer with the Idaho Press-Tribune.

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