The Daily Signal spoke with Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., Wednesday on news of the day, including conversations on Capitol Hill about reinstating earmarks, the senator’s proposal to help end obstruction of President Donald Trump’s nominees, and more.
Lankford’s proposal to help end obstruction of Trump’s nominees would decrease the current 30 hours of wait time between debate an voting for the nominee to eight for most executive branch nominees, and two hours for most federal court nominees.
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the conversation.
Rachel del Guidice: I wanted to first start off and get your thoughts on the talk that’s been going around Capitol Hill about reinstating earmarks. I know the House Rules Committee is holding a few hearings this week, so I just wanted to first get your thoughts on reinstating earmarks and then what you’re hearing on Capitol Hill.
Sen. James Lankford: Yeah, it’s an interesting dialogue to come up again. I thought it was a settled issue that should remain settled. We should not have earmarks similar to any way it was done in the past. The issue is not whether Congress has the authority to appropriate dollars. Clearly, constitutionally they have the authority to do that and the responsibility to do that.
The issue is how it is done and it’s used as a vehicle to get people to vote yes on legislation that they should vote no for because it’s not good legislation. So, if it’s used as a tool, which has been the conversation, and even was a part of the president’s conversation in the White House meeting last week, is how do we get more legislation moving, well, let’s do earmarks again. I think it’s the wrong direction.
del Guidice: What are you hearing? Do you think there’s a large consensus that this could happen or there’s substantial support against it?
Lankford: I think there’s substantial support against it. There are individuals that say, “Hey, there are projects that previous administrations would not do or this administration would not do and they’re not aware of,” and I understand that.
When you’re the representative of that area, you have a responsibility to stay current on the needs and the issues that are federal issues in your district or your state. But, reinstating earmarks, or anything similar to what it looked like in the past, is a terrible idea.
del Guidice: I wanted to circle back with you on a proposal that you’ve been working on to limit the debate hours for presidential nominees. Where is that at and how are you hoping that will continue to go through the Congress?
Lankford: So, we have had a hearing on that in the Rules Committee. That was the only hearing all last year actually was on that issue. It was in December. The proposal that I brought, as you know, was the 2013 proposal that Democrats brought and said this is a good solution for 2013 and 2014.
I have said it’s a good solution then, it’s a good solution now and in the future to take away the sunset date. That’s two hours for district court judges, eight hours for everyone else, except for Supreme Court, circuit court, and Cabinet officials. They’d be 30 hours. But that is limiting what we call the post-cloture time, time that is actually just wasted time.
Once it’s determined that these individuals have gone through committee, been approved by committee, they’ve already gone through the first section of time that everyone knows they’re actually going to pass, this is just a loss of time.
So, in the past, all these individuals just moved in regular order, pretty consistently, most of them by unanimous consent or by voice vote. Or they were put together in packages where 20, 30, 40 people at a time and moved but now, there’s just long contracted delay. The product with that is that it doesn’t just take the president a long time to get his nominees, the product is that the Senate can’t actually debate legislation.
We’re constantly in 30-hour post-cloture debate time on nominees that are going to pass like they did last week unanimously, but it’s just wasting time that you can’t actually get in on legislation and vote on key issues.
del Guidice: And so you think this would help if this were to happen with the obstruction we’ve been seeing … and it’s taking so long for them to get confirmed?
Lankford: I absolutely think this would not only help with the obstruction that’s happening on nominees but allow the Senate to get back to voting on legislation again.
del Guidice: There’s been a lot of discussion, Democrats wanting to tack DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, onto a spending bill that we’re going to have to pass. It looks like the spending bill’s going to be pivoted until February, but what do you think should happen with DACA and “Dreamers”? This is an issue that won’t be going away and going forward. What do you hear on Capitol Hill and what is your perspective on that?
Lankford: It’s interesting, a lot of our Democratic colleagues are very focused on, we have to get a solution for DACA, and they don’t want to discuss the border security portion of it at all. Or they don’t want to say, “We will build a small section of the wall, but we want to do extensive work for the DACA recipients.”
What many of us have said from the very beginning is, when you’re dealing with kids in DACA, these really are kids that as a whole have lived their entire lives in the United States but they were brought here by their parents, and their parents were not legal, obviously, those children were not legal. But, the children came as children at no fault of their own.
As a friend of mine often says, if an adult is pulled over for speeding, you don’t ticket the 4-year-old in the back seat. They were a passenger along for the ride, but the adult in the front is responsible for those actions.
So there is a difference with dealing with those in the DACA program, and I think that we understand that. But, there is a need to really resolve the issues around border security and chain migration. Or, you will have a DACA vote five years from now, and another one five years after that. So, you can’t just deal with one issue and not deal with the larger issue around border security.
So, that has been the sticking point because our Democratic colleagues do not want to discuss border security, they want to discuss DACA. But, even the president at the very beginning, in September, said whatever we have to do with DACA we’re also going to have to do significant work on border security to get this done. And that still holds true, and now, four and a half months later, we’re still trying to get our Democratic colleagues to the table to actually have serious debate on border security.
del Guidice: Are there any specific items that you would want to see in legislation for DACA as a give-and-take that would happen with immigration reform?
Lankford: Yeah, I don’t think there’s an unwillingness, Republicans or Democrats, with a legislative solution on DACA. So, it’s not as if this is a trade back and forth but it is an acknowledgment that if you’re going to deal with DACA, then you’re going to have to deal with the border security. Only because those two issues are connected.
The reason those individuals are here is because we didn’t have border security in the past. And that doesn’t change or get better unless you resolve that issue at the same time. So we want to be able to resolve it.
But there are key things. We treat individuals that come into the country illegally one way if they’re from Mexico or Canada and completely different if they’re from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, wherever else it may be. There’s no reason to do that. We should treat all people that cross our border illegally the same. With a great sense of fairness for those individuals, but we should treat people the same if they cross our border illegally.
We should deal with issues around … I’m trying to think of how many issues are even on the border … So you’ve got fence in some areas that needs to be built, you have wall in some areas that needs to be built. You have technology in some areas that needs to be constructed. You have fiber networks that need to go to each other so we can have broadband access and good communication in those areas.
All of those things need to be dealt with. At the same time, you’re also dealing with legal issues. You’re dealing with what’s called expedited removal process. That’s a legal issue that needs to be resolved. We have to deal with federal access to lands. There are some lands that are federal lands that we can’t get access to those lands when it’s even a different agency.
So, Customs and Border Control can’t get access to areas that are run by the Interior Department. Well, that’s just got to be cleaned up. So you don’t have areas that are open for people crossing illegally but even Customs and Border Patrol can’t get onto it.
And so, all those things have to be resolved. But again, none of this should be controversial, all of this should be a commonsense issue if you’re going to have a secure border. That means you have to fix in law and in fact a secure border.
del Guidice: And lastly, pivoting to the March for Life. This will be the first time that a president has addressed the March for Life with a video. What is your opinion on how this is just monumental for the pro-life movement and for the nation as a whole?
Lankford: It’s a big deal anytime the president speaks anywhere, but when he speaks about something like this it’s especially significant. The vice president of the United States spoke last year to the March for Life, that was a significant moment.
Now for the president to step up and say, “You know what, our nation should be a culture and nation that is committed to a culture of life.” To be able to honor each individual no matter how old or how young that individual happens to be, we should be a culture that’s based around life. And the appreciation and value for each human being. That there is no human being that’s too small, or too young, or too old that doesn’t have dignity and worth.