Republican 2024 hopefuls draw early battle lines for post-Trump era

Ambitious Republican senators seen as potential 2024 White House candidates are drawing early battle lines on issues they believe will define their party in the post-Trump era. 

GOP Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Rick Scott (Fla.), and Ben Sasse (Neb.), all of whom are seen as White House hopefuls, signaled some of their priorities during the Senate’s marathon voting session on the budget.

Some of the Republicans want to rededicate their party to conservative principles of free trade and smaller government. Others are more focused on expanding their party’s appeal to swing voters, while a few appear to be juggling goals.

One of the most popular themes on display is getting tough with China, which Republicans see as a potential vulnerability for President Biden.

GOP White House hopefuls filed at least 16 amendments related to China to the Senate budget, ranging from Cotton’s proposal to hold China accountable for the origins of COVID-19 to Rubio’s amendments to keep Huawei Technologies on a restricted “entity” list and to prevent U.S. persons from investing in Chinese military companies.

Rubio also filed an amendment to block federal funding for health, academic or technological programs that promote joint research considered to be “known” priorities for China’s military-civil fusion strategy.

Scott filed an amendment to prohibit the procurement of unmanned aircraft made in China. He filed another to prohibit funding of government contractors with ties to China.

Sasse filed an amendment to promote the establishment of a technology trade partnership with allied countries to reduce U.S. dependence on technology made in China. He also offered an amendment to encourage additional State Department resources to strengthen strategic competition with China.

Other hot-button amendments GOP senators filed during the budget debate related to illegal immigration, big technology companies, the soaring federal deficit, packing the Supreme Court, student debt and abortion.

Cotton introduced an amendment with Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) that would prohibit direct stimulus payments that were included in last year’s CARES Act and the year-end $900 billion relief bill from going to illegal immigrants.

The measure passed 58-42 after eight Democrats — Sens. Maggie Hassan (N.H.), John Hickenlooper (Colo.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) — voted for it.

It was stripped from the resolution early Friday morning, however, by a Democratic substitute amendment. 

“We shouldn’t give checks to foreigners who’ve broken our laws. Pandemic relief should only go to Americans, not illegal immigrants,” Cotton said in a statement after the vote.

Amendments passed onto the budget resolution wouldn’t have the force of law since the resolution won’t be ultimately signed by the president.

But amendments establishing points of order against government spending or actions could set a 60-vote threshold for future bills — which would make it tougher to pass legislation with a simple-majority vote under the special process known as budget reconciliation.

Many of the amendments filed didn’t get votes on the floor because of the sheer number of proposals competing for attention during the all-night voting marathon.

Cotton also filed an amendment during the debate preventing illegal immigrants from accessing Medicaid or other federally funded health care exchanges.

Other immigration-related amendments were a proposal by Scott to continue construction of the southern border wall and an amendment from Rubio to deter migrant caravans from Central America.

Cruz also offered an amendment to create a point of order against future legislation that would increase the number of visas for foreign workers. It failed on a vote of 40-60 after several Republicans including Sasse voted against it. 

Cotton introduced amendments creating a point of order against legislation sending COVID-19 relief funds to school systems that aren’t holding in-person classes and another point of order against legislation that would increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court.

Rubio joined Cotton’s court-packing amendment.

The Senate in a 50-50 vote dismissed Cotton’s attempt to keep the size of the court at nine justices. The measure needed 60 votes to clear a procedural objection.

Cruz offered a similar amendment creating a point of order against legislation that would increase funding to increase the number of Supreme Court justices.

He also filed amendments to ensure the federal government recouped $30 billion in what he says were “improper and fraudulent” unemployment payments made by California and to increase funding for the Department of Defense by cutting funding for the Department of State.

Another Cruz amendment called for increasing funding to the Department of Justice to investigate nursing-home COVID-19 deaths.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a prominent Democrat, has come under criticism over deaths at New York nursing homes.

Hawley filed an amendment calling for the suspension of all mergers and acquisitions by tech companies that “operate market dominant online platforms,” such as Amazon and Google.

“Big Tech robber barons at companies like Amazon and Google have taken advantage of crippling restrictions placed on their smaller competitors to consolidate power even further,” Hawley said in a statement.

Hawley appears to be angling squarely for Trump’s base. The former president’s anger at tech companies such as Facebook, which conservatives believe have censored political speech, prompted Trump to veto last year’s Defense authorization bill because it did not include language lifting tech company liability protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Hawley joined Cotton in putting pressure on schools to reopen by filing an amendment to establish a point of order restricting COVID-19 relief funding to elementary and secondary schools that don’t resume in-person instruction.

Hawley filed a third amendment calling for the elimination of tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, mirroring Trump’s efforts over four years to shore up the nation’s manufacturing base — a popular issue especially in the industrial Midwest.

Paul used his opportunity to offer amendments to attack federal spending and to redirect foreign aid to pay for domestic infrastructure projects.

Paul forced a vote on a substitute amendment to the Democratic budget resolution calling for an annual three-percent reduction in on-budget spending, which would save $7.2 trillion over the next decade.

“When I started offering these kinds of budgets four years ago, we could balance with a freeze in spending, not cut anything. Then we went to just a penny, then two, now it is three,” he said, referring to how many pennies need to be cut for each dollar in on-budget spending to eventually eliminate the deficit.

“We cannot keep ignoring this problem,” he said.

The amendment was resoundingly rejected after 71 senators voted “no.”

Abortion was another issue that White House hopefuls battled over.

Sasse offered an amendment that was narrowly defeated to require health care providers to use their full skills and resources to care for newborns that survive abortions.

Sens. Manchin and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) joined 50 Republicans in voting “yes” but it failed to clear a 60-vote threshold. 

Tags Abortion Andrew Cuomo Ben Sasse Bob Casey budget reconciliation China Coronavirus Debbie Stabenow Gary Peters Huawei Joe Manchin John Hickenlooper Jon Tester Josh Hawley Maggie Hassan Marco Rubio Mark Kelly Rand Paul Supreme Court Ted Cruz Todd Young Tom Cotton

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