- Gabriel Scarlett, The Denver Post
With Republicans in charge of both chambers of Congress and the presidency for the first time since 2007, there was supposed to be a lot to celebrate this week when two of the nation’s premier conservative conferences met in Downtown Denver.
Instead? Speakers at the Western Conservative Summit and American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual meeting have been saying things like this:
“You would think that some sorcerer had taken some of those unemployed clowns from the Ringling Bros. and put them in the U.S. Senate,” said Steve Forbes, publisher of the conservative business magazine that shares his name. “It’s unbelievable.”
To be clear, conservatives have had plenty to cheer since Trump’s upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton last November. The Trump administration has rolled back countless Obama-era regulations, appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and put conservatives such as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in charge of key departments, ushering in major shifts in federal policy on a wide range of issues.
“President Trump, I’d give a B+,” said Colorado House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, in an interview with The Denver Post.
But Congress? “I’d give them a D.”
The single biggest source of conservative angst: Congress’ inability to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The House of Representatives earlier this year passed a conservative health care plan, but the Republican-led Senate has repeatedly postponed a vote on a health care measure of its own in the face of resistance from moderates and conservatives alike.
This — many Republicans wryly noted this week — after Congress voted dozens of times to repeal or alter the health care law while President Barack Obama was still in office.
“What makes me the most sick looking at Washington D.C. is that the people who voted for a full repeal of Obamacare only did it because they know Obama was going to veto it,” said Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, in a Friday night speech to the Western Conservatives. “They lied to us.”
Others expressed frustration that Congress still hadn’t made progress on budget cuts or tax reform.
Some are going so far as to call for a constitutional convention, saying the inability of a GOP-led congress to follow through on its promises illustrates that the problems conservatives have with Washington, D.C., can’t be fixed without drastic steps.
“D.C. will never fix itself,” said Mark Meckler, president of the Citizens for Self-Government.
The Convention of States project, led by Meckler, former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, and former Sen. Jim DeMint, hopes to amend the U.S. Constitution to impose term limits on Congress, require balanced federal budgets and give the states more power relative to the federal government.
A piece of draft legislation introduced at ALEC this yearproposes using the effort to repeal the 17th Amendment, which since 1913 has allowed voters to elect their U.S. senators by popular vote. Instead, senators would be chosen by the 50 state legislatures — an idea that a liberal-leaning watchdog group, the Center for Media and Democracy, labeled as an attempt to “gerrymander” the U.S. Senate.
The effort’s a long shot, at best. Under Article V of the Constitution, a two-thirds majority, or 34 of 50 states, would have to pass resolutions calling for a constitutional convention. It’s only happened one other time in U.S. history — 1787.
That’s left many thinking of a more traditional political remedy — voting, and possibly donating, to someone else if Republicans don’t follow through with their campaign promises.
“The prospect of a political hanging for Republicans I think will focus their mind wonderfully,” Forbes told the ALEC crowd, to loud applause.