So many things have happened in Washington, D.C., in the last few weeks that I do not know where to start. So I will put this report into four compartments:
1. Both Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake announced they would not be running again. Pundits said that neither of them could be re-elected, but both received great publicity for their withdrawal statements, which were attacks on President Trump. However, according to an article in The New York Times on Thursday, Oct. 26, Sen. Flake relied in part on his Mormon faith in the circumstances that surrounded his withdrawal. He cited the old children’s hymn, “Choose the Right,” in his speech.
Quoting the Times article directly, “but his revulsion at President Trump also appeared to reflect his Mormon faith. It is a faith that puts a premium on decorum and comity, one that was born in America but is increasingly international and multicultural, and one whose young people often wear rings engraved 'CTR' as a reminder to the hymn.”
Irrespective of the politics of it, some of Sen. Flake’s withdrawal statements and interviews centered around his LDS faith. His withdrawal was the most dignified and faith-based I have seen.
I have served with about a dozen Mormon senators, and very few have spoken in a public way about their faith. However, the late Sen. Paula Hawkins spoke of her LDS beliefs frequently. I think Jeff Flake made history by being so open about his faith in the NYT interview.
2. Many in Washington, D.C., and across the country, have been watching the PBS Ken Burns special on Vietnam. Simultaneously, the news story about four American soldiers dying in Niger has been paralleled with some of the Vietnam story. As a Vietnam veteran, I do not favor U.S. boots on the ground overseas except in the rarest of circumstances. I had thought that any troops we had in Africa were remotely advisory at best. I was surprised and disappointed that some of our troops have been in combat situations in Africa. I am vehemently opposed to this as it seems we are doing a rerun of the Vietnam scenario as presented in the Burns documentary.
First, some military advisers are playing remote roles, and then suddenly we hear that American troops are killed and are presumably killing others in a former French colony. French and American troops again are present in a remote country wherein the people seem to resent a foreign military presence. We should not go down that road without a clear and specific congressional authorization.
Sen. Tim Kaine and Sen. John McCain are trying to get Congress more involved in foreign policy, in particular regarding troops and military actions overseas. In my opinion, the current foreign military authorizations do not cover combat troops in Africa in any instance.
I know it is clumsy, but Congress must take the lead in the stationing of any of our troops overseas.
Does history repeat itself? As a Vietnam combat veteran, I have unfortunately seen the U.S. make the same mistakes over and over again in Iraq, in Afghanistan and now apparently in Africa. Sen. Kaine would have Congress hold hearings and adopt specific resolutions regarding combat troops in Niger.
I also think we should rely on our allies like the British and the French if combat operations are necessary in their former colonies in Africa.
3. Tax reform is moving forward in Washington, but now it has merely become a tax-cut bill. Nobody is willing to suggest a single deduction or exemption they would eliminate. The reduction of the 401(k) benefit was suggested, but President Trump has said he will not support that. If there are some tax cuts, there must also be some revenue enhancements or we will have such a huge deficit that the money system will collapse. Real tax reform will require the elimination of deductions and exemptions. Real tax reform would be very tough and turbulent to achieve.
I fear this Congress will just adopt a sugar-coated tax-cut bill without any of the real reform. That would be a tragic and costly mistake. And all the assumptions that the economy will grow with certain tax cuts is not proven. Indeed, the largest expansions in the economy have frequently come after tax increases. Specifically, and for example, Bill Clinton’s tax increase stabilized the bond markets, stabilized inflation and led to a budget surplus and about 10 years of growth and prosperity.
If our deficit keeps growing, we will someday have to consider a substantial tax increase. That doesn’t sound nearly as happy and fun as the kind of artificial talk we are hearing from both parties promising tax cuts.
4. The Hudson Institute kindly hosted a discussion on my new book, "Neighbours in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent." Over 100 citizens, diplomats and journalists attended. Somewhat surreally, Secretary Tillerson was in both India and Pakistan and echoed the same conclusions of my book regarding Pakistan and India. My book was distributed throughout the White House, State Department and Defense Department last summer when the administration was reviewing its strategy. I hope my book made some small contribution.
The above four points are just a tiny sampling of all that has been happening in Washington, D.C. We are galloping forward in our complex democracy. We have somehow been treated as an exceptional people by Providence and we can only pray that will continue.
Larry Pressler was a U.S. senator for 18 years and congressman for four years. He is a Rhodes Scholar, Harvard Law graduate and a Vietnam veteran.