Whichever way U.S. Rep. Martha McSally turns, there’s a trap.
If she supports President Trump’s initiatives, that galvanizes the already-energized Democrats and potentially puts her seat at risk in 2018. If she rejects Trump, she turns off the 44 percent of the Congressional District 2 electorate who voted for Trump, the base of McSally’s GOP.
It’s a trap she’s long tried to avoid in the southeast Arizona district that has gone to both Democratic and Republican candidates. On Aug. 31, the day candidate Trump visited the Mexican president and gave a dark anti-immigration speech in Phoenix, she declined to say whom she would vote for in the presidential election, saying “My vote is between me and God and the ballot box.”
But now she is emerging tentatively from her neutral stance, supporting Trump in two of his more controversial initiatives. That’s already bringing out critics and potential challengers.
McSally’s first small step out of the neutral zone came on Jan. 26, when she deemed Trump’s executive order on border control and the proposed wall “strong steps in the right direction.”
“For years, Southern Arizonans have called for the federal government to step up and secure our border, and this order is a strong start in the right direction. They untie the hands of our Border Patrol agents and allow them to do their jobs. They also mandate the release of regular border effectiveness data, which is critical to fully understanding the problem.
“When it comes to barriers, they are important where appropriate, but only part of the equation. What we need is a comprehensive strategy to grow situational awareness, build operational control, and dismantle the cartels and their networks.”
So, in essence, she liked most of Trump’s executive order that day, but thought there was too much emphasis on the border wall. A rather nuanced response to a president who is mostly garnering polarized reactions.
Trump’s more controversial executive order took place on Jan. 27, and caused airport chaos, confusion and demonstrations over the weekend. McSally made no public statement until Monday afternoon. Then she again offered tentative support.
“We are a nation of immigrants, but that must be balanced with the foremost priority of the federal government — protecting the American people. I served on a Congressional task force focused on combating ISIS that found very real and dangerous gaps in our vetting processes. Likewise, our own intelligence officials have expressed vulnerabilities with these processes, which is why taking a comprehensive look at them is prudent and should be expected of any new administration.
“However, I have concerns about certain individuals being denied entry, such as green card holders, those who served alongside our military, and partner military service members who train here, such as Iraqi pilots in Tucson. Those issues must be addressed and remedied immediately.”
Again, she quibbled with the details of the Trump policy, objecting only to the mistreatment of green-card holders and those who have assisted our military. She ignored the impacts on everyday travelers and U.S. residents with family in those seven countries from which travel is banned. Not a particularly strong response to a measure that demanded it, in my view.
Now opponents are sensing vulnerability. Protesters are gathering regularly at McSally’s office, urging her to protect the Affordable Care Act and to oppose Trump. Democrats are already lining up support as possible challengers in 2018.
Among the Democrats at various stages of considering a run: Brian Bickel, a retired hospital executive who ran unsuccessfully for Pima County supervisor last year; Mo Goldman, a local immigration attorney and new candidate; Stephen Portell, a local civil attorney in private practice and also a new candidate; Victoria Steele, a former legislator who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in CD2 in 2016; and former legislator Bruce Wheeler, who said he has been attracted to the race by McSally’s reactions to Trump.
“McSally is signing off on his behavior and serving as an enabler to him,” Wheeler said.
As strong as McSally was in her first term — and I voted for her in the general election against Democratic challenger Matt Heinz, who is not considering a re-run now — she won’t be able to ride the fence forever on Trump’s policies. There are risks either direction, but she will have to take them.
With friends like these
The people at American Action Network apparently were trying to boost McSally when they placed an ad in Monday’s paper that said, among other things, “Congresswoman Martha McSally has a Plan to Deliver Quality, Affordable, Patient-Centered Health Care.” The ad encouraged readers to call her office and thank her “for Proposing Access to a Quality, Affordable Health Care Plan.”
The use of capital letters was not the strangest thing about the ad. The strangest thing is that it is wrong: McSally does not have any such plan.
It’s not that she necessarily should. She’s a member of the armed services and homeland security committees — not in prime position to be designing Obamacare replacements, work that other members of Congress are doing.
This was part of a cookie-cutter promotional campaign by the American Action Network, a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization that promotes “center-right” policies, according to its website. By law, elected officials and their organizations can’t coordinate with these groups. So, the 41 members of Congress whom these ads were intended to benefit are stuck with the ads that unintentionally seem to undercut them.
Gem show needs to dazzle open
I put out a question to the mayor’s office last week: Is there any opening celebration for the gem and mineral shows that began last weekend, one of Tucson’s biggest events of the year? The answer: Essentially no.
So here’s my crazy idea. New York has the ball drop, right? And Flagstaff has its pine-cone drop on New Year’s Eve. Tucson should have ... a Geode Drop that opens the gem show every year.
Imagine this: A big, fake geode slides down a pole and cracks in half when it hits the bottom, revealing crystals inside. Slogan: “When the geode drops, the rockhound shops.”
How about that?! My responsibility ends here.