“We limit the president to two terms. It’s about time we limit the terms of Congress!” he blared. Back in the U.S. Senate, the idea was quickly dismissed — by Paul’s fellow Republicans.
Rand Paul took the stage in Louisville this month for his presidential campaign kickoff and delivered a thunderous pronouncement to cheering supporters. “We limit the president to two terms. It’s about time we limit the terms of Congress!” he blared.
Back in the U.S. Senate, the idea was quickly dismissed — by Paul’s fellow Republicans.
“Up here, I think if you impose officially short term-limit restrictions, then you just empower the lobby and the staff, and it makes it less representative of the American people,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a three-term veteran and No. 2 in the GOP leadership.
Added seven-term Sen. Orrin Hatch: “I’ve never been for term limits. I actually believe we have a built-in constitutional term limit: And that is the ballot box.”
The skepticism covers more than just term-limit pledges. GOP senators have poured cold water on Paul’s vow to repeal the Patriot Act, with Kelly Ayotte even warning such a move would endanger Americans. Marco Rubio’s promise to reverse President Barack Obama’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba “would not fly,” in the estimation of Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.
And Ted Cruz’s promise to abolish the IRS “I’ve been hearing that since the Coolidge administration!” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said with a big laugh.
Freed from the need to build coalitions to pass legislation, Paul and fellow GOP senators Cruz and Rubio are unleashing an arsenal of crowd-pleasing conservative proposals along the campaign trail. Some, like calls to abolish entire federal departments, are staples of GOP presidential campaigns going back decades that have never come to fruition. Others are of more recent vintage, such as scrapping the post-9/11 Patriot Act.
The cool reception is a stark reminder of the gulf between presidential campaigns and a Congress designed to frustrate the will of any president. The proposals are being written off as wrongheaded or unrealistic not only by Democrats but by Republicans.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, the folksy Tennessee Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the White House twice, used to propose abolishing the Department of Education and cutting the pay of lawmakers so he could “send them home.”
“That sounded pretty good on the stump so I kept saying it,” Alexander recalled. “You’re going to hear a lot of things in a presidential campaign that appeal to the primary audience that don’t have much chance of making their way into national policy.”
Still, skepticism from fellow Republican senators may, in a way, be beneficial to the GOP candidates — particularly Paul (R-Ky.) and Cruz (R-Texas). Both men are positioning themselves as crusaders against the Washington establishment, casting themselves as outsiders looking to shake up the entrenched interests of both parties. The more skepticism from their party, their supporters say, the more it means it’s time for a fresh face in Washington.
“That’s part of the problem: New ideas are not going to come from within Washington,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), a supporter of Paul’s. “The new ideas are going to come from the outside. They are going to come with new blood, new people, and people who have been recently in the private sector — not people who have been in Washington, D.C. for a long time.”
In an interview last week, Paul said his ideas are resonating among voters and signaled he’s ready to push back against criticism from his fellow colleagues. In particular, he said, repealing the Patriot Act — and cracking down on the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program on phone calls — enjoys wide support among voters.
“The NSA spying program — up here — a majority of people support it,” Paul said, referring to Capitol Hill. “I think if you ask the American public, ‘Should the government be collecting all your records all the time without a warrant — with your name on it I think most people in America agree with me.”
Ayotte, the New Hampshire who sits on the Armed Services Committee, doesn’t agree.
“We have to deal with the reality that the terrorism threat is real, it’s growing, it’s morphing,” Ayotte said. “I don’t think eliminating this type of program is the right direction for us to go right now.”
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said: “We need to have that program.”