Conservatives take shots at independent-minded GOP senators


Activist groups that want conservative orthodoxy on Capitol Hill have aimed their fire previously at Republicans, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and his predecessor, John A. Boehner. Now they have some new targets.

Their focus has turned to three senators who've shown some willingness to challenge President Donald Trump: Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona.

Last month, Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks, which pushes a fiscally conservative agenda, called out McCain and Collins as "Republicans in name only" who "have already betrayed us this year."

"If given the chance, they'll do it again," he warned.

Meanwhile, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is upset with Murkowski for telling the Alaska Legislature last month that she wouldn't support legislation to repeal the 2010 health care law if it eliminates federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the women's health care group that provides abortions.

Brandon also worries that McCain and Collins could defect if Republicans take up legislation to repeal the health care law, and he's concerned that they could oppose the confirmation of Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as conservative efforts to reduce federal spending.

FreedomWorks activated its grass-roots supporters last month after McCain expressed misgivings about Trump's choice of Mick Mulvaney to run the Office of Management and Budget. Mulvaney, he noted, had previously supported cuts to the Pentagon budget. (Trump presented a budget outline last month that would give the Defense Department a boost.) Brandon said FreedomWorks activists sent nearly 59,000 emails and made 5,984 phone calls in a failed effort to convince McCain to vote aye.

The group wasn't always so down on McCain. They were once on the same side in opposing earmarks, the line items in appropriations bills that representatives and senators once used to send money back to their districts and states. Both the Senate and House banned those in 2010. McCain scored a 96 percent on FreedomWorks' scorecard that year, but since then his numbers have steadily declined to just 60 percent in 2015-16.

Collins, by contrast, is a longtime moderate often at odds with FreedomWorks. She and then-Illinois Sen. Mark S. Kirk were the lone Republicans to vote no when the Senate moved to repeal the health care law and defund Planned Parenthood in December 2015. President Barack Obama vetoed that bill a month later.

Murkowski, notably, supported that bill. But with Republicans now having a willing partner in the White House, the three-term senator said the Planned Parenthood issue should be dealt with separately from the health care law. She told Alaska lawmakers last month that she "will not vote to deny Alaskans access to the health services that Planned Parenthood provides."

Perkins responded by writing, in his email newsletter that "the 'Republican' moderate has made a career out of putting herself at odds with her party, especially on core issues like abortion," and he urged supporters to put pressure on her and Collins.

"If you haven't made them feel the heat, they'll never see the light," he wrote.


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