Conservative outrage was palpable last week when it became clear that Republicans in the Senate would not even be able to pass a weak, bare-bones version of Obamacare repeal through the budget reconciliation process. But while plenty of pundits were calling on Republicans to be primaried by Tea Party/Trump loyalists, begging the president to end Obamacare subsidies through executive order, and demanding that senators go back to the drawing board, a few conservatives thought the failure was symptomatic of deeper problems with the federal government.
“Time to repeal 17th Amendment,” wrote Mike Huckabee in a tweet. “Founders had it right – Senators chosen by state legislatures. Will work for their states and respect 10th amend.”
Whoa. Are the divisions in the Republican Party so bad that we need to go in and monkey around with the Constitution?
To answer that question, let’s first familiarize ourselves with the 17th Amendment:
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.
Before the 1913 addition of this amendment to the Constitution, senators were, as Huckabee explained, chosen by the various state legislatures.
So now that we have our facts straight, how is it that making this simple change would fix what it so obviously wrong in conservative politics?
By our reckoning, it wouldn’t change a whole lot. Yes, this would make the Senate more in line with what the Founding Fathers intended, but our current crop of senators are already theoretically beholden to their constituents – which means they are beholden to their state’s interests. How would this differ if they were beholden to the legislature instead? If anything, it was an OVER-emphasis on state-level politics that made it so difficult for McConnell and Trump to get Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski to vote for repeal. You think the Maine State Legislature would have pressured Collins to give in to Trump’s national agenda? No, it would have only given these Republicans more room to hide from the will of the people.
If there is a problem in Republican politics today – and there is – it’s that there are too many Democrats wearing the Republican uniform. If we’re going to fight for a constitutional amendment, let’s fight for one that mandates a balanced budget. If we’re going to clean up the Republican Party, let’s do so by encouraging true-blue conservatives – people who recognize exactly what the left is doing to this country – to run for office.