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Thune Says Syria Attacks Sends Messages, Military Spending Vital; Dodges Budget Questions

Senator John Thune fielded questions from fourteen citizens during his town hall in Aberdeen today. You can view most of the questions and responses, along with most of Senator Thune’s opening remarks, in this YouTube playlist consisting of 17 separate videos. I’m happy to offer fourteen of Thune’s responses in the clips below. (I missed one follow-up about the draft—Thune says no, there won’t be one, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that NSA chief H.R. McMaster keeps cleaning house and ups Trump’s meds to make sure no draft is needed.)

1. Guns and Butter: Asked what data indicate that we need to trade services for the elderly, education, and other social programs to increase military spending, Senator Thune says that if we don’t have guns, we won’t have any butter:

2. NEH, NEA, and Public Broadcasting: Asked about the cuts the Trump budget would make to the national Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Thune dodges, saying the budget has to get through Congress:

3. Federal Workforce and Pensions: Different topic, similar dodge: Thune says he doubts we’ll see the 17% cuts that the questioner says the Trump budget would wreak on federal workers and their pensions, but he doesn’t say he’ll defend federal workers and retirees from such cuts.

4. Medicaid Block Grants: Thune assures a mother that turning Medicaid into block grants won’t deny her son the assistance he receives for his developmental disabilities. Maybe her son lucks out: shifting Medicaid to block grants could deny 14.3 million to 20.5 million others of their access to Medicaid.

5. Goodbye, Filibuster; Hello, Gorsuch: Thune gives perhaps his only direct rebuttal of the day, challenging the questioner’s claim that his vote last week to change the rules to end filibusters on Supreme Court nominations to pave the way for putting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court with fewer than 60 votes. Thune says Democrats started it in 2003 by filibustering ten Bush II judicial nominees; Republicans followed in 2013 by filibustering two of Obama’s judicial nominees, to which Democrats responded by changing the rules on filibusters for lower court nominees. Democratic Senators Kaine and Reid promised last fall to undo filibusters on Supreme Court nominees, so the change was inevitable, regardless of who won the White House and the Senate. Thune contends that the filibuster has rarely been used on Supreme Court nominees, so the repeal of its use really restores the Senate to the way things were done long before today’s partisan squabbles. [So Democrats, the lesson here: don’t squabble about procedure; just keep hammering Thune and the Trumpublicans on the real harms their policies do to rural America!]

6. Budgets vs. Continuing Resolutions: Thune says we’ll get the budget for Fiscal Year 2017 (which began over six months ago) done by the end of April… or maybe a little later.

7. More Military Spending: More guns. More bombs. Count on it.

8. Why Syria? Thune says we attacked Syria last week to send three messages: to Assad, that he better not use chemical weapons again (or what—we’ll put burn marks on another set of runways?); to our allies, that America really is ready to lead (lead where? chaos? a deeper refugee crisis which we are unwilling to ameliorate?); and to North Korea, Russia, and other provocateurs, that… well, “we’ll see what comes of it.”

9. Let the IRS Do Its Job: Thune admits that, along with his magical incantations of growth (“We must! We must! We must increase our GDP!”), it might not be a bad idea to make sure the Internal Revenue Service has the resources to collect taxes.

10. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Thune doesn’t say kill the CFPB, but he sure wants to rein it in:

11. Dodd-Frank Overkill: Thune characterizes the CFPB and Dodd-Frank banking reforms coming out of the recession as typical “over-reaction,” “overkill,” and a “sledgehammer” that imposes “tremendous” (careful! Trump is contagious!) costs on banks and small:

12. Big Sioux? What Pollution? Darned Obama! Pressed to say how he’ll help improve water quality in the highly polluted Big Sioux River, Thune insists South Dakota is blessed with “fairly pristine” conditions relative to other places, then pivots to gripe about the discarded Obama Waters of the U.S. rule. You know, John, Obama isn’t President anymore. You are the Republican White House are going to have to start owning and fixing problems.

13. Red Tape, Wetlands, and Roads: A guy asks about cutting red tape so counties could drain wetlands and build roads faster and cheaper. The proper conservationist response is, “Hold your horses! Wetlands are good for fishing, hunting, wildlife, and water quality downstream in the Big Sioux like that lady asked about!” The John Thune response is a gentle, noncommittal ramble about making it easier to build infrastructure.

14. Debt, Depression, Doom! The last questioner raised the alarm about the $20-trillion national debt (which is over 100% of GDP but costs less than half as much to service, as a percentage of GDP, as it did during the Reagan era). The question gave Thune a chance to close with, among other things, another appeal to the Great Gods of Growth to relieve him of the burden of having to make any hard policy decisions:

The town hall showed no sign of the open outrage and disruptive protest that marked town halls in other states earlier this year. There was a brief surge of contentious yaying and booing following the question about the filibuster and Gorsuch. Otherwise, dissent took the form of tough questions about the real impacts of Trump budget cuts on South Dakota, with our senior Senator calmly avoiding taking a position either for his constituents or his President. Avoiding taking a position—that’s the kind of leadership we get from South Dakota Republicans.


  1. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr. 2017-04-11 00:05

    But Senator Thune chided Senator Daschle back in 2004 for the way Democrats were obstructing Bush43 judicial nominees at the time, but then admits now, that the GOP did the same thing in 2013, while he (Thune) was in the Senate.

    In fact, in a 2014 South Dakota Republican Party video promotional piece, the state GOP highlighted that chiding by Thune from 2004, which now Senator Thune admits is the same tactic that was used by the Senate Republicans in 2013; which I find very interesting and conflicting.

    So my questions are, why didn’t Senator Thune fulfill his suggestive promise of 2004 to not filibuster a judicial nominee, and if the Senate Republican actions of 2013 are like the Senate Democratic actions of 2003, as Senator Thune suggests, then isn’t the 2014 South Dakota Republican Party promotional piece, which post dates 2003 and 2013, a lie when it comes to the expression of the virtuous positions of Senator Thune on judicial nominees, filibustering, and obstructive politics in general?

    FF: 02:26

  2. Jenny 2017-04-11 01:03

    The audience member asked “How do you measure how much you need to spend on the military? When is enough enough”
    Really, Thune should have just answered that it’s all about what the defense contract lobbyists want.
    And now what they want is another war, this time with Syria. It sure didn’t take long for the Republican President to bomb another country barely two months in. Man, GOP we know you like your wars, but could slow them down a bit at least? Our soldiers are tired.

  3. jerry 2017-04-11 03:24

    Guess who still is not manipulating currency? China! Thanks Obama! Guess who thinks that the Thune/trump regime is bogus? China again! Thune/trump fooled no one with the waste of gunpowder on Syria.

    When Thune starts to give a care about South Dakota and all of its citizens, like veterans, maybe he might be someone to listen to. Until then, he is the same fraud as always. I did kind of like him telling the rest of the old folks there that there pensions are cool. Those folks will need that to support their children who won’t be that fortunate.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-04-11 06:56

    Jenny, I agree that Thune’s responses on Syria and military spending were wholly unsatisfactory and missed the main point you make, that Trump is stoking the military-industrial complex… just as the Swamp has always wanted. Blow stuff up to “send messages”… to the stock market!

  5. mike from iowa 2017-04-11 08:17

    Drumpf bombed an airbase but not the airfield itself. The only message sent was to warn Russians and Syrians that an attack was coming and please remove all valuable items to a safe place.

    Drumpf sez not bombing the airstrip was out of deference to Russia. Guess which Syria used that airstrip the very next day to bomb the city Syria has recently gassed?

    I’d say that makes Drumpf complicit in bombing our allies with Syria.
    pa Sunday news shows had three Drumpf tapeworms explaining three different policies towards Syria while the golfer in chief was golfing-again.

  6. bearcreekbat 2017-04-11 09:31

    It is interesting to compare Thune’s defense of eliminating the filibuster for SCOTUS nominees to Round’s op ed in the RC Journal yesterday. Rounds argued that Reid “broke” the Senate rules by removing the filibuster on regular federal judges during the Obama years.

    Since Democrats “broke” the rules, Rounds concluded that now Republican had a right to break Senate rules for Gorsuch.

    In other words, it appears that the new Republican mantra is: If someone else breaks rules then we can break rules. The Republican ethical position apparently is “two wrongs make a right” and “the ends justify the means.”

  7. mike from iowa 2017-04-11 09:50

    [McConnell is] a master of Senate rules and procedures, and he harbors no presidential aspirations that might distract him from his job. But unlike earlier leaders, he doesn’t keep score by legislative accomplishments. For the first time in recent memory, the Senate will be run by a leader with both the ability and the desire to use the institution entirely for partisan advantage…

    I’m hardly the only observer who attributes much of America’s current dysfunction to McConnell. Dana Milbank calls him “The Man Who Broke America.” Milbank starts with one of the many, many examples of McConnell’s hypocrisy and dishonesty:

    “No majority leader wants written on his tombstone that he presided over the end of the Senate,” the minority leader said.

    He continued: “Breaking the rules to change the rules is un-American. I just hope the majority leader thinks about his legacy, the future of his party, and, most importantly, the future of our country before he acts.”

    Are these the words of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as the Republican majority changed Senate rules this week to do away with filibusters of Supreme Court nominations?

    Actually, they were uttered in 2013, by then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), when Democrats pushed through a similar filibuster change for lesser nominations.

    Milbank doesn’t mince words:

    No man has done more in recent years to undermine the functioning of U.S. government. His has been the epitome of unprincipled leadership, the triumph of tactics in service of short-term power.

    Milbank further documents McConnell’s willingness to subvert longstanding Senate culture in service of rabid partisanship, pointing out that by 2013 his unprecedented, frequent use of the filibuster had blocked 79 of Obama’s nominees; that compared with 68 presidential appointments blocked during “the entire previous history of the Republic.”

    Drom Sheila Kennedy’s blog today.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-04-11 11:41

    I recognize that the filibuster rule change has significant impact on who sits on the highest bench in the land. That is a big deal. However, there’s not much we can do about it, other than make sure we win the next election.

    Thune’s evasiveness on the Trump budget questions and Thune’s strange vision of what constitutes national security interests deserves more attention and can make far better campaign fodder.

  9. Roger Cornelius 2017-04-11 12:19

    It has been said that Trump could have done more damage to the Syrian airfield if he purchased it and ran it like a business.

  10. W R Old Guy 2017-04-11 12:52

    Trump would have had a third party purchase the airfield and contracted to manage it. This would result in a bankruptcy, a confidential settlement, and a big tax write off for Trump. We would not know how big because he can’t release his returns unit the audit is done.

  11. mike from iowa 2017-04-11 13:46

    Spicer claimed not even Hitler used poison gas. When it was pointed out that he gassed Jews, Spicer said Hitler didn’t use gas on his own people like Assad did.

    Has he struck out yet?

  12. jerry 2017-04-11 13:55

    Two wrongs do not make a right, but 3 lefts do. I think we need more left to put this country in the right direction. Thune needs to take his millions and go back to Murdo or where ever he came from. He can then sit in the car museum and be the relic we all hope him to be.

  13. jerry 2017-04-11 14:20

    trump stands very close to becoming an actual multi billionaire on this deal. Citgo and Venezulea are about to be taken over by trumps new partnership with Rosneft, Putin’s oil giant. Guess who they hold the paper on? Our boy Thune does not even try to hide the russian association anymore as his man owns 15% of the newly formed Rosneft. Damn good deal for the feller, I would say. It is good to be the king.

  14. mike from iowa 2017-04-11 16:02

    Marlboro Barbie will never be the Senate Stud Daschle was.
    MB isn’t fit to hold McCTurtle’s jock let alone TD’s.

  15. barry freed 2017-04-13 07:49

    Didn’t make it through the videos as I created a drinking game during the election where one takes a drink every time someone says: ” Listen “.

  16. Donal 2017-04-17 09:20

    It makes no difference what thune says or what the people of South Dakota need or want.
    Thune is the Koch brothers personal shoeshine boy and will bow before them and do their bidding over all else.
    Thune is a fitting backdrop for Mitch (Turtle Boy) McConnell as he waits in line believing he is next to be the Senates big shot. Heard McConnell tried out for the new ninji turtle movie.
    Thune will never be anything more than a messenger boy for the billionaires, banks and corporations. He will serve them all way to hell.

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