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John Bolton is Right to Call Out the International Criminal Court’s Political Agenda (Washington Examiner) September 11, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
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National security adviser John Bolton stirred the international waters this week by calling out the International Criminal Court for what it is and has always been — a political institution with an agenda, clothed in the finery of judicial robes. The court was formed by a relatively small group of like-minded nations working with NGOs and nonprofits seeking to establish an international body that could counter the military power of the United States. In this 20 thanniversary year of the court’s founding, as the Prosecutor seeks to investigate U.S. military and intelligence officials for war crimes in Afghanistan, Bolton warned in the clearest terms that America will oppose the court at every turn.

A court created to fulfill the purpose of the ICC should have turned out differently. Noting the pattern of creating regional courts when judicial resources were overtaxed by war crimes and crimes against humanity — such as in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia — the idea was to create a permanent court that would be up and running at all times, able to deter such atrocities in the first place. However, late in the negotiations, these progressive “like-minded” states and their NGO partners pulled several surprises, proposing a court that would be radically different. Instead of referrals from the U.N. Security Council, for example, they wanted an independent prosecutor, a kind of Robert Mueller or Ken Starr with global reach. Rather than limit the court’s authority to citizens of nations that signed the treaty, it would seek unprecedented jurisdiction over crimes that occurred on the territory of member states.

Proponents of the ICC did not seek a broad consensus, as is normally the basis of international treaties, but instead “a court worth having,” in their view. They settled for a requirement that only 60 of the 190-plus nations of the world sign the treaty for the court with such sweeping jurisdiction to be established. Seventy countries, with roughly two-thirds of the world’s population, have not joined, including major powers such as China, India, Russia, and the United States. Countries that have been targeted for investigations in Africa (and more recently, the Philippines) simply withdraw, and other countries where war crimes have been serious problems, such as Iraq and Syria, do not join in the first place. This is hardly the way to build a credible international judicial body.

The U.S. was deeply involved in negotiations to establish the court until they politicized. In the end, the U.S. voted “no” on the treaty in Rome in 1998. Bill Clinton signed the treaty in his final month as president, knowing the Senate, as required by the Constitution, would never ratify it. George W. Bush then communicated that the U.S. would not ratify the treaty and was not bound by it. The Bush administration also negotiated bilateral treaties with many nations in which they promised not to submit American service members to the ICC.

Being the world’s policeman is not only difficult, but it also now potentially subjects American service members and intelligence officials to criminal prosecution, which is exactly what many proponents of the court wanted all along. Since Afghanistan is a member, war crimes or crimes against humanity committed on its territory may be prosecuted by the court. To this, Bolton channeled his inner Winston Churchill and said we will fight them at passport control entering our country, we will fight their funding in our financial system, we will fight them when foreign aid budgets are considered, and we will fight them in the United Nations. We will never surrender.

The ICC has spent $1.5 billion in its 20-year history and has obtained a paltry eight convictions. It does only two things well: (1) Convict the occasional African warlord, and (2) rattle the political cages of Israel and the United States. Bolton and the Trump administration have rightly rattled back.

To view the column at the Washington Examiner:
https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/john-bolton-is-right-to-call-out-the-international-criminal-courts-political-agenda
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Don’t Hold Your Breath Waiting for the Socialist Sweep in 2018 (Washington Examiner) August 31, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Policy Articles & Papers.
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It’s election season, and madness is in the air. Besides the usual questions in a midterm election — who will carry the House and Senate, and how many seats will the incumbent president lose — the word socialism, rarely heard in American politics, is out in the open. A few candidates are actually running for office under the socialism banner. But what does that mean for the 2018 elections and beyond?

For starters, we can say with confidence that there will be no socialist sweep into office in 2018. All the hype is really about a mere handful of candidates, most notably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez running for Congress in New York and Cynthia Nixon who is running so far behind in the race for governor of New York that we would not pay attention but for her earlier role in “Sex and the City.” There are also candidates for the state house in Pennsylvania. This hardly portends an electoral boom for socialism, but the fact that they are running at all is news.

The more interesting question is whether these candidates running as Democratic Socialists is the early stage of something bigger and longer-term. Is this socialism’s Barry Goldwater moment? In 1964, Goldwater suffered one of the biggest losses in presidential election history, but most credit him with laying the groundwork for Ronald Reagan’s later success running as a conservative. Just as Goldwater proclaimed that “extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice,” will these socialists help establish that socialism is no longer a form of extremism in its pursuit of equality?

Alas, this does not seem like a Barry Goldwater moment either for socialists. Prior to Goldwater’s run for president, conservatives had methodically taken over Republican Party positions at the state and local levels around the country. Goldwater himself authored books (most notably Conscience of a Conservative) outlining what he and the conservative movement stood for. Boots on the ground and ideas in the air were sustainable beyond Goldwater’s own electoral defeat and, indeed, they became the base on which Reagan would run and win the presidency 16 years later.

Socialists have no such infrastructure in 2018, only a handful of local and regional candidates wearing the label. The Democratic Socialists of America is the heart of their organization, such as it is. It has grown dramatically in recent times, but at 37,000, it is no bigger than a small town. Just as President Trump took over the Republican Party unexpectedly in 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, came surprisingly close to gaining the Democratic Party nomination that same year. Importantly, however, he did not grow a major base or infrastructure, so a socialist takeover of the party seems a long way off, if ever.

More important, the neosocialists have no agreed-upon philosophy or message. The millennials who speak favorably about socialism seem mostly interested in free government assistance: free tuition, help retiring student loans and buying houses. Even in Denmark, often spoken of as a the heartland of modern socialism, its prime minister pointed out in 2016 that it was not a socialist country but rather “a market economy” with “an expanded welfare state.” None of the candidates seems to be advocating the traditional understanding of socialism where government or the public owns the means of production and distribution.

Otherwise, one might say that all the buzz about socialism in the 2018 elections is much ado about very little.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’ s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The Wars on Our Domestic Woes (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) August 23, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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https://omny.fm/shows/townhall-review-conservative-commentary-on-todays/david-davenport-the-wars-on-our-domestic-woes/embed?style=artwork

 
This is David Davenport of the Hoover Institution for Townhall.com.

Perhaps you missed the memo from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. The War on Poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, is largely over, they say, and we won. Amazing, since a lot of people obviously still live in poverty.

As is often the case in government, the difference is in the definition of the problem. Historically we have defined poverty by income and the CEA defined it by a consumption test instead. Neither test is truly accurate.

No, the War on Poverty isn’t over, but presidential wars on domestic problems should be. We have lived for decades with wars on poverty, crime, drugs, terror and energy consumption, all declared by a lot of presidential speeches but with very little policy on dealing with these big problems.

It’s one more failure of big government in Washington, not a huge success.

Back to School Needs Back to Civic Education (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) August 15, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Radio Commentaries.
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https://omny.fm/shows/townhall-review-conservative-commentary-on-todays/david-davenport-back-to-school-needs-back-to-civic/embed?style=artwork

 
As America’s students go back to school this month, America’s schools need to go back to civic education.  Our schools are awash in political concerns—from guns to immigration to bathrooms even—but it’s not clear that students have a good understanding of politics, history and civics.

 

In the last round of national testing, a pitiful 18% were found proficient in history, 23% in government.  And these are the future leaders of our republic.

 

With the emphasis on math and science, and pervasive political correctness, schools are not teaching basic civics.  Both instructional time and testing of government and history are down.

 

A few states are beginning to act, adding civic education course requirements and testing.  But more must be done.  Preparing students to become good citizens and voters is more important than ever.  And that requires a major commitment to civic education.

http://www.townhallreview.com

California is Using Lawsuits to Impose its Blue State Values on the Rest of the Country (Washington Examiner) August 7, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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It’s not fake news that California is joining 19 other states to sue the Trump administration over auto emission standards. But it’s not surprising news either, since this is now the 39th lawsuit California has brought against the federal government during Donald Trump’s 1.5-year presidency. Viewed through that larger lens, this is less about federalism, states’ rights, or even auto emissions, and more about California’s ongoing effort to impose its blue-state ideals on the rest of the country.

The Clean Air Act of 1967 was a federal initiative to take over environmental policy, reinforced by big-government Republican Richard Nixon’s establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Thereafter, the federal government, not the states, would be in charge of auto emission standards, though the federal government could still grant waivers to states under particular circumstances. California has had such a waiver for 48 years, though the EPA now wishes to remove that waiver and enforce the lower federal standards across the board. California argues it has special needs for higher standards and, as a matter of states’ rights, it should be able to enforce those.

The truth of the matter is that California only believes in state auto emissions if they are stricter than those of the federal government. If Texas, for example, wished to have lower standards than the feds, California would not be joining that lawsuit. No, for California, states’ rights only travel in one direction— toward more regulation, not less. Since California is such a large market for everything, including automobiles, its standards have nationwide impact. In fact, 20 states now follow California’s auto emission standards. If you make cars, you either follow California or federal standards, no one else’s. So this is not a case of states’ rights, broadly speaking. This is California vs. Washington, Gov. Jerry Brown vs. Trump, blue state vs. red state, pure and simple.

We saw California’s bully federalism earlier when it imposed a ban on the use of state money for travel to eight other states that, in California’s wisdom, do not provide sufficient legal protection for gay and transgender rights. Student athletes in California’s universities and colleges, for example, may not have the educational experience of seeing how things are done elsewhere, because California believes things are not done correctly there. As the sixth largest economy in the world, with the largest state budget, California has economic power to throw around and it seeks to leverage other states into seeing things its way.

Federalism has traditionally been a shield, protecting states from an overreaching federal government. But California’s blue-state bully federalism is more like a sword, trying to prod others into following its world view. States are required to give “full faith and credit” to the public acts, records, and court declarations of other states, according to Article IV of the Constitution. If not violating the letter of that law, California certainly disrespects and dishonors its spirit.

People will argue the auto emissions controversy both ways, but the larger story deserves attention as well. When a state sues the federal government 39 times in 19 months, something bigger is going on. In this case, California is trying to impose its own blue-state policies on immigration, civil rights, environmental standards, healthcare and more on the rest of the country wherever it can. That effort should be seen for what it is— a blue-state political power play, not a high-minded defense of federalism and states’ rights.

 

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/california-is-using-lawsuits-to-impose-blue-state-values-on-the-rest-of-the-country

Is Democratic Socialism for Real in America? (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) July 25, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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https://omny.fm/shows/townhall-review-conservative-commentary-on-todays/david-davenport-is-democratic-socialism-for-real-i/embed?style=artwork

 
One story from the 2018 primary elections is the win of candidates in Pennsylvania and New York running as democratic socialists.  In the wake of a 2016 poll showing that 43 percent of millennials view socialism favorably, this has led pundits to wonder whether democratic socialism is a viable movement in America.

In short, the answer is no.

Young people are not interested in true socialism, which is the state owning the means of production and distribution.

What millennials favor is a larger welfare state. In fact, when Bernie Sanders ran for president and Denmark became a hot topic, their prime minister felt the need to clarify that it was not a socialist country, but instead an extensive welfare state.

I don’t know which is more discouraging, that young people think they are in favor of socialism or the fact that they don’t know what socialism is.

http://www.townhallreview.com

Foolhardy Presidents Keep Declaring ‘War’ On Problems They Can’t Solve (Washington Examiner) July 24, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
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Perhaps you did not get the memo from the president’s Council of Economic Advisers earlier this month: The War on Poverty is over, and we won. To be more precise, the CEA report said, “Based on historical standards of material wellbeing and the terms of engagement, our War on Poverty is largely over and a success.” Consequently, increased work requirements for those receiving aid would now be appropriate, according to the council.

This report seemed almost as funny as President Ronald Reagan’s line in a 1988 speech: “Some years ago, the Federal Government declared a war on poverty, and poverty won.” Declaring war on domestic policy problems has become a bad habit of American presidents and, by now, we should have learned several lessons about them. First, they do not solve the problems they set out to address; meanwhile, they actually reduce our ability to find root causes and alternative solutions; they increase executive power at the expense of Congress; and they never end.

Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty was the first of these domestic policy wars. Looking for a signature policy to help define his presidency and the “Great Society,” Johnson gathered his advisers at his ranch in December 1963. He told them he would find federal money for anti-poverty programs and asked them to design a policy. Not much was known then (or arguably now) about how to eliminate poverty, so the advisers came back with some small test programs. Never one to go small, Johnson instead went big and declared a “War on Poverty” in his State of the Union message in January 1964. It was, as these domestic policy wars all are, long on rhetoric and short on policy.

Other presidents have followed the LBJ domestic war template. Johnson later declared a war on crime, though Nixon accelerated it and become known for it. Nixon declared a war on drugs. Jimmy Carter declared what he called “the moral equivalent of war” on energy consumption. George W. Bush declared a war on terrorism. These wars are declared on intractable problems and, in many cases, conditions rather than real enemies, so they are never won — poverty, drugs, crime, and terror are all still with us, and the wars continue.

In each case, presidents declared these wars without a strong sense of the policies that would be needed to win them. In the case of poverty, we have never even known how to define the problem. That, by the way, is how the Council of Economic Advisers could declare victory — it used a consumption-based formula rather than the standard income definition of poverty. The latter has always been flawed because it counts only annual earned income, not assets or government aid. So we are not sure how to define the problem, how to fight it, or what it would look like to win it. Believe me, anti-poverty programs are not over.

Further, domestic policy wars limit the search for policy solutions. We do not have time to search out root causes and debate policy options — we are, after all, at war. Nevertheless, the war calls for us to find enemies and spend money rooting them out. We appoint drug czars, we arm local police with military weaponry, and we diminish civil liberties — all in the name of war.

As he expanded so much of the modern presidency, Franklin Roosevelt really started all this in attacking the Great Depression. He said in his first inaugural that the American people want “action, action now,” and he began a presidential agenda of “bold experimentation.” He said that, if necessary, he would ask Congress for war powers. In this way, presidents have continued to grow their power over domestic problems that should be the purview of Congress, or in some cases, state and local governments.

No, the war on poverty is not over. However, presidentially declared wars on domestic policy problems should end.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/foolhardy-presidents-keep-declaring-war-on-problems-they-cant-solve

Judges Should Respect the Constitution More than Precedent (National Radio Commentary, Salem/Townhall) July 17, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Commentaries.
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https://omny.fm/shows/townhall-review-conservative-commentary-on-todays/david-davenport-judges-should-respect-the-constitu/embed?style=artwork

 
Below the surface of Senate hearings on whether Judge Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed to the Supreme Court is a tug of war that should be brought to light.  It is a battle between a judge’s commitment to follow judicial precedents versus faithfulness to the Constitution itself.

Federal courts tack right and left, as Republican and Democratic presidents appoint their judges.  More liberal judges increase federal power and conservative judges restrain it.  But when liberal courts take the law to the left, they set precedents that conservative judges feel obligated to follow, even when the decisions were not constitutionally sound.

There is value in precedent—without it the legal system would become unpredictable and unstable. But more important is following the Constitution itself. We need judges who will do both. But we don’t want slaves to precedent—whether or not that precedent is faithful to the Constitution.

2018-07-16

Millennials Say ‘Democratic Socialism’ But What They Want Is Free Stuff (Washington Examiner) July 11, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Surprise primary victories by “democratic socialists” in New York and Pennsylvania have created a buzz about millennials and socialism. Bernie Sanders was the prophet of this movement, attracting strong support among young people for his ideas about democratic socialism in the 2016 presidential campaign. Still, people were surprised when a YouGov poll showed that young people (under 30) preferred socialism to capitalism 43 to 32 percent. With these recent political wins, some wonder whether the Democratic Party will undergo a socialist realignment, just as Donald Trump led a populist reinvention of the Republican Party.

To all of this I say: Not so fast. First, there is a widespread misunderstanding of what democratic socialism means and what millennials really want. Socialism is an economic system that involves collective (especially governmental) ownership of the means of production and distribution. It stands in contrast to a capitalist, market-regulated ownership of business. When you add the word “democratic” to it — which is presumably done to soften the impact of an historically unpopular term in the U.S. — you are essentially saying the system is chosen democratically, not imposed by some kind of totalitarian regime as in Russia or Venezuela.

In the 2016 presidential campaign, tiny Denmark found itself front and center as Bernie Sanders pointed to it as a model for his democratic socialist ideals, and Hillary Clinton felt compelled to admire it in one of the debates. But something was wrong, if not rotten, about that characterization of the state of Denmark. Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen clarified that his country was not socialist, but rather “a market economy” with “an expanded welfare state.” High taxes and lots of government benefits, yes, but not a government-controlled economy. Ah, there’s the very important difference.

It would appear that today’s millennials are most interested in free college education, retirement of student debt, and help getting into the difficult housing market, but less interested in government controlling the means of production and distribution. In fact, a 2014 Reason-Rupe survey of young people (ages 18-24) confirmed their admiration for socialism at 58 percent. But when pollsters then asked whether they wanted governments or businesses leading the economy, they preferred markets by a two-to-one margin.

The real problem is that millennials do not seem to have a good understanding of what socialism is. In a 2010 NYT/CBS poll, only 16 percent of young people could accurately define socialism. (Not to be too hard on millennials, older folks only responded appropriately to that question at a 30 percent clip).

I am not suggesting that there are no hard-core socialists in the mix. The Democratic Socialists of America has grown dramatically since the Bernie Sanders campaign, from 7,000 members to 37,000. They could fill a small island, if not an actual city or state. But they are true believers, calling for “popular control of resources and production, economic planning and equitable distribution” in their Constitution. And they have endorsed their fellow democratic socialists in New York and Pennsylvania.

But the real question is about the millions of millennials, and I think this generation, which has been coddled by helicopter parents and seeks “safe spaces” when they go off to college, basically wants more free stuff from the government. Their concern is not who controls the means of production and distribution — in fact, they do not even understand that is what socialism is. Besides, with the voter turnout among millennials so poor — only half of those eligible voted in 2016, compared with two-thirds of older cohorts — it will be awhile before their vote will show up and make a difference. By then, the old saw says they will have paid enough taxes and experienced enough government regulation that they are likely to view things differently.

Mark me down as skeptical that a huge socialist millennial wave is about to hit our shores.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

To view the column at the WashingtoExaminer: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/millennials-say-democratic-socialism-but-what-they-want-is-free-stuff

 

Making Congress Great Again and the 2018 Elections (with Gordon Lloyd), Townhall.com June 27, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Politics.
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The labels used to describe it sadly diminish the 2018 election: “Mid-term” or “off-year” or “non-presidential.” Even though nothing less than the membership and direction of the United States Congress is at stake, such elections receive limited respect and even lower voter turnout (around 40% compared with approximately 60% when there is a presidential race). What’s more, even though the president is not on the ballot, these elections are nevertheless very much a referendum on the president’s performance and popularity.

By all accounts, Congress is in a deep and steady decline and could use the voters’ attention. Its approval ratings range between 10-12%, well below President Trump’s low polling numbers of 35-42%. Overall, 41% of those polled by YouGov say Congress has accomplished even less than usual lately. Many members of Congress have been voting with their feet, choosing in near-record numbers to leave Washington rather than run for reelection. Polarization is up and deliberation is down in Congress.

Can Voters Help Congress Become Great Again?

There are a few problems with Congress that voters could help solve. One major issue is that party partisanship has overtaken institutional systems and loyalty. Formerly committee chairs in Congress wielded considerable power, overseeing hearings, entertaining amendments, fostering debate and compromise. In addition, there were more moderate and liberal Republicans, plus more moderate and conservative Democrats than today, so forging bipartisan majorities on issues was a way of doing business. Now party leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wield all the power, holding draft bills in secret, springing them on the Senate when there are enough votes to pass them, and enacting legislation on pure party-line votes, not even involving members of the other party.

Party unity voting, which was around 60% in the early 1970s is closer to 90% today in both the House and the Senate. The most important legislation of the Obama administration, The Affordable Care Act, was passed on a party-line vote of Democrats and tax reform, the signature legislative accomplishment of the Trump administration so far, was passed on a party-line vote of Republicans.

Voters need to identify more mavericks such as John McCain, who declined to join his party in repealing Obamacare because of the lack of deliberation. Leaders who will not stubbornly toe the party line but who will cross party lines if necessary to find the best policy solutions are sorely needed. In the days when the Senate was more productive, it benefited from members who held as much or more loyalty for the institution of the Senate than for their political party. Voters need to seek out more citizen legislators and fewer professional politicians beholden primarily to their party.

Can Congress Make Itself Great Again?

While voters have a role to play in making Congress great again, Congress itself will have to do the heavy lifting. For starters, Congress will need to stop deferring its powers to the president and once again carry out its own Constitutional responsibilities. For example, although Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants to Congress the power to “declare war,” Congress has essentially deferred its war powers to the president. The recent military attacks on Syria’s chemical weapons facilities were ordered by the president without the involvement of Congress. When Congress did authorize the war on terror after 9-11, that authorization has been stretched by three presidents to cover all kinds of military actions, including some against groups that did not even exist at the time of the authorization.

Other powers have been shifted away from Congress by the rise of the administrative state and the ever-expanding role of federal agency rulemaking. In their important 2016 book, Constitutional Morality and the Rise of Quasi-Law, Bruce P. Frohnen and George W. Carey document Congress’s inclination to delegate complex and difficult questions to administrative agencies when they legislate. Congress is now content to pass broad legislation on important subjects such as work place safety, protection of the environment and so forth, leaving the details to be worked out by federal agencies. Columnist George Will has rightly described this weakening of checks and balances as Congress “expelling rather than consolidating power,” the opposite problem from what the founders had feared.

Making Congress Deliberative Again

Congress must also do the hard work of making itself once again a deliberative body. The Senate especially, referred to by former President James Buchanan as “the greatest deliberative body in the world,” hardly deliberates any more. Changing an institution such as the U.S. Senate would be difficult under the best of circumstances, requiring a potent booster shot of political will.

For example, House and Senate leaders could shift power back to committees and committee chairs as part of a return to regular order. Certain rules adjustments, especially in the Senate, could help make the legislative process more deliberative. If the Senate wishes to maintain the filibuster, it would make sense that the cloture vote requirement be lowered from three-fifths to a simple majority, or even 55% of senators present and voting, in order to keep one senator or a small minority from clogging up the legislative process entirely. The practice of allowing a single senator to unilaterally place a “hold” on a nomination or other action should be stopped.

Conclusion

Making Congress great again will not be easy, but we need to start somewhere. Internal reform of rules alone will not be enough to restore deliberation, but it could help. Greater statesmanship, bipartisanship and civility will also be required. The goal is to return to the founders’ notion that deliberation by Congress is an important priority and a useful process. With such an important Constitutional role to play, making Congress great again ought to be top of mind when voters go to the polls this fall, and when the new Congress gathers next January.

David Davenport is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.  Gordon Lloyd is Dockson Professor Emeritus of Public Policy at Pepperdine University.  

 To read the essay at Townhall.com:

https://townhall.com/columnists/daviddavenport/2018/06/27/making-congress-great-again-and-the-2018-elections-n2494647