The spectacle of Senator Thom Tillis’s spiritless kowtowing to Donald Trump in recent months has truly been something to behold.
It wasn’t that long ago that Tillis was talking big about the need for humane immigration reform policies and the need to combat efforts to undermine investigations into Russian meddling in our democracy.
Boy, did a few shots across the bow from the far right about a possible 2020 GOP primary challenge change all of that. First, of course, came Tillis’s “flip-flop for the ages” on the question of Trump’s declaring a national emergency with respect to the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Then, just last week, the Senator who once made a great show of his desire to protect the Mueller investigation from Trump meddling, told Policy Watch reporter Robin Bravender that he had no “particular concerns” about the report now that it is out or the horrific behavior it documents.
Add to this that scarcely a day goes by in which Tillis isn’t sending out a fundraising plea professing his loyalty to Trumpism in all of its most revolting guises and, well, you get the picture. North Carolina’s junior senator may know in his heart that the President of the United States is a dangerous charlatan, but he clearly has no intention of putting the wellbeing of his country ahead of what he perceives to be in his own political best interests.
In some ways, of course, the real world impacts of Tillis’s cringe-inducing behavior are limited. When it comes to ultra-high profile issues like Russian meddling and Trump’s war on immigrants, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell clearly pays little heed to a junior backbencher like Tillis anyway.
On other, day-to-day matters of governance, however, Tillis’s weak-kneed behavior is having important and destructive consequences right here in North Carolina.
Take, for instance, the issue of federal aid for the relief of natural disasters like hurricanes that ravaged North Carolina last year. If ever there was an urgent matter on which one would think a senator would feel comfortable speaking out loudly and plainly (even if it did run afoul of the administration) this ought to be it.
As multiple news outlets have reported (see, for example, this recent story in the Wall Street Journal) North Carolina is one of several states suffering mightily as a result of the federal government’s failure to pass a comprehensive disaster relief bill.
The state suffered more than $20 billion dollars in damage as a result of Hurricane Florence alone (roughly the size of the entire state General Fund budget for a full year) in, among other things, lost crops and livestock, destroyed or damaged structures, and ruined infrastructure. North Carolina still awaits vital aid from Congress to remove debris, repair military installations and support the state’s marine fishing industry. Other states (like Florida) fared even worse from hurricanes, while disasters like the California wildfires also wreaked great havoc.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case these days, there’s a giant roadblock to getting the federal government to do the just and moral thing when it comes to disaster aid: Donald Trump.
As he has now for well over a year, the President is sticking to his cruel and outrageous opposition to recovery legislation. Trump opposes the bill because it includes a small part of the aid that Puerto Rico has so desperately needed ever since Hurricane Maria devastated the island territory in September of 2017 with more than $90 billion in damage and the largest and longest blackout in US history.
You see, Trump, for a variety of irrational reasons, doesn’t like the men and women who govern Puerto Rico. Just yesterday, Trump renewed his absurd and racism-fueled attacks on them.
And so, in true Trump era fashion, millions of innocent human beings are suffering needlessly because of the dishonesty, insecurity and megalomania of one very troubled man.
This is clearly a situation that calls for elected officials of the president’s party like Senator Tillis to stand up and push back. As a practical matter, Tillis wouldn’t even have to directly call out Trump’s lies about Puerto Rico; he needs only to speak up for comprehensive relief legislation because of what it would do for North Carolina and leave the Puerto Rico fight to others.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, however, Tillis has been all over the map on the issue. Earlier in the year before his high profile flip-flop on the emergency declaration, he was pushing “bipartisan” solutions to the impasse. Just two weeks ago, however, he joined with Sen. Richard Burr to issue a statement in which they both toed the Trump line by blaming Democrats for wanting to help the beleaguered Caribbean island.
The bottom line: If there is a single most important function of government, it is to deploy public resources in order to keep the public safe and healthy in times of common peril and to support disaster relief. It is simply a travesty that these basic services are being denied to millions of Americans right now because of the madness of one man and the refusal of others who know better (like Senator Thom Tillis) to confront him.