While most of the nation’s talking heads were focused on President Trump, and whether he would accept dirt on his opponents from foreign sources, Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher was working on other priorities.
He was meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a small group of Republicans and Democrats to see if they could break the logjam on Mexico border security.
The effort failed miserably. Pelosi refused to budge on border security. Fulcher and others were not asking for a border wall, mind you. They were seeking $4.4 billion just to bring some order to the mess at the southern border.
“Yes, that’s $4.4 billion in additional spending, but we’re spending that much and more because we are dealing with people who are rushing the border and they are showing up in hospitals, schools and community doorsteps,” he said. “We’ve got to have the resources to restore order, because there is no order now.”
In the last month, he said, there have been 144,000 apprehensions at the border, with many of those being unaccompanied minors. Some are sick.
“We put together a package that has nothing to do with the wall, but everything to do with more beds, medicine and personnel to handle the situation,” Fulcher said. “From a humane perspective, we need to have some help and resources there, and she simply would not consider it.”
If it’s any consolation, Fulcher at least got his foot in the door — which is more than most freshmen Republicans can expect. In his first days in office, he was introduced to the speaker by Congressman Mike Simpson, who has served 20 years with Pelosi in the House. Simpson told her that Fulcher was one Republican that she could talk to, and apparently she remembered that.
When it comes to pleasantries, Fulcher says, Pelosi can be as warm and friendly as the neighborhood lady who bakes apple pies. “But when you start getting into policies that she’s against, the window shade starts to come down and the door starts to close on the conversation.”
If it’s something that might make the president look good, then forget it. Of course, that’s not a new concept on Capitol Hill. After President Obama was elected in 2008, Republicans did all they could to ensure a failed presidency — a strategy that flopped. Of course, Fulcher couldn’t be blamed for all that, because he was serving in the Idaho Senate during those years. Now, he is getting a first-hand view of why the system is broken, perhaps beyond repair.
“To me, I don’t care if it’s a Republican president and a Democrat speaker, or vice versa, and I mean that,” he said. “There are serious issues that are not being addressed. We are not doing what we need to be doing, and there’s no excuse for that. In fairness to the majority party, there are those who have similar thoughts. They are frustrated.”
Meanwhile, the games continue. When I talked with Fulcher a few days ago, the House was in the middle of what can best be described as a political stare down. Republicans objected to voice votes on appropriations bills, so the measures were heard in full and votes were taken on each one. The House had more than 60 votes in one day, with the session ending just after 1 a.m., and the next day there were some 30 votes taken in a span of three hours. A bleary-eyed Fulcher was there for each one of them.
“If I sound punchy, it’s because I am. I’ve had about two and a half hours of sleep in the last 30,” he said. “But if you are engaged and are going to be on the record with voting, then you are there until 1 a.m. and you’re there for the marathon of more than 30 votes in three hours. If you are not engaged and willing to put in the time, and if your staff is not engaged, you are not going to do well.”
Fulcher, a bit of a workaholic by nature, has no trouble with spending the time it takes to do the job — and he takes seriously the responsibility of representing nearly a million people in Idaho’s First District.
The hard part of his job is figuring a way to get around a political system that is designed to not work — and maybe figuring a way of getting more sleep.
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Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at email@example.com.