Pat Toomey plays ‘Hamlet’ on TV. The House is going to force him to choose | Thursday Morning Coffee

February 28, 2019 7:02 am

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. WikiMedia Commons

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Let’s take a moment to consider the case of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey.

If we know one thing about the Lehigh Valley Republican, it’s that he often plays it cagey, keeping his thoughts to himself, waiting until the last moment before he makes his opinion on a big issue public.

Consider 2016, when Toomey refused to say whether he’d vote for then-candidate Donald Trump. Locked in a tight race with Democrat Katie McGintyToomey made disapproving noises in the direction of the Republican nominee – only to announce, literally, at the final second, that he’d voted for Trump anyway.

The outrage over that seeming bait-and-switch was huge. Toomey positioned himself as an independent thinker, only to fall in line and do something so predictably Republican that it dinged his credibility.

Now we’re at a similar point again, on two very important votes taken by the House within the last week. And Toomey’s eventual actions could have a similar impact on his long-term credibility.

First up, that House resolution on the wall.

Democrats need the votes of just four Republican senators to win passage of that resolution nullifying Trump’s emergency declaration on The Wall. Toomey is one of several GOP senators who have been publicly undecided on how they’ll vote on the House resolution.

“I never thought that was a good idea. I still don’t,” Toomey told Axios, in regard to Trump’s use of emergency powers. “My view is that this is better to be resolved through the legislative process.”

In a statement to released to the Capital-Star on Wednesday, Toomey said he continues to “believe that the president’s $5.7 billion border wall funding request was reasonable. That said, I had hoped this dispute would have been resolved through the legislative process. I am concerned about the president’s emergency declaration, and am still considering how I will vote on a resolution of disapproval.”

Then there’s the background checks bill that cleared the House on Wednesday.

Toomey, along with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has long been a champion of expanded background checks and has said he’d pursue them again if he was ever given an opening.

Yes, the odds of this bill going anywhere in the Senate are practically non-existent. But Toomey has a chance to step up here, to buck leadership, reach out to Democrats, and to put some muscle behind it.

This statement, at least, is an encouraging nod in that direction:

“I hope that House passage of a bill to expand background checks will boost momentum for the Senate to take action on this issue,” Toomey said in a statement. “I will continue working to find consensus and get more Senate Republicans to support expanding background checks – whether that be a Manchin/Toomey bill or a similar measure.”

Toomey sounds more concrete on the background checks bill than he does on the emergency resolution.
But two House members – Democratic U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, and Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, could provide him with a way forward on defying the White House and, likely, most of his Senate colleagues.

Lamb, D-17th District, voted in favor of the resolution because of his concern about the diversion of money away from a military construction project in his districtToomey could play homer and follow Lamb’s lead.

Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, played the constitutional card when he broke with Republicans to vote in favor of the resolution. He said that the vote was about bigger issues such as “the separation of powers, and about setting precedents that apply equally to all future Congresses and all future Presidents.”

Toomey, who is actually thoughtful and deliberative, also likes to fancy himself a creature of the Senate. He could decide that the Constitution and precedent win out over the White House not getting its way on what, really, is a simple budget vote.

Either way, a lot of eyes will be on Toomey in the coming days. The way he responds to both House actions could end up being his defining moments in the Senate.

Our Stuff:
Stephen Caruso 
looks at the looming debate over … yes … scooters.
Here’s Sarah Anne Hughes on an innovative effort to help the families of Pa. National Guard personnel.
Elizabeth Hardison catches you up on the state Health Department’s PFAS clean-up efforts.
Here’s how every member of Pa’s House delegation voted on that gun background check bill – and what they had to say about it.
Gov. Tom Wolf had an Instagram town hall – hilarity ensued.

On the Opinion side of the house, a Georgia college prof explains why Americans are still so bad at history – and what can be done about it. A Republican state senator makes the argument for his bill slapping tougher sentences on people who deal fentanyl. And a look at the economic conditions in Pittsburgh and Philly and what that means for Pa.

Gov. Tom Wolf and state university leaders are giving embattled Cheyney University more time to get itself in orderThe Inquirer reports.
Republicans in north-central Pennsylvania will convene Saturday to nominate a potential successor to ex-U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, PennLive reports.
Pittsburgh’s City Council is making supportive noises about $2 million in one-time grants to childcare centersThe Post-Gazette reports.
The Morning Call has more on the gun-background checks bill.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

Pittsburgh officials say a statue in Oakland isn’t the only way to pay tribute to the accomplishments of African-American women, The Incline reports.
PoliticsPA throws it open to the readers: How high the minimum wage?
Politico goes inside Chuck Schumer’s plan to become Senate majority leader.
AOC is out for Trump’s tax returns, Roll Call reports.

“Actually, it’s Instapot. My wife [First Lady Frances Wolf] and I did get an Instapot for Christmas this year.”
— Gov. Tom Wolf, during his Instagram Q&A Wednesday, settles the big question when he’s asked whether he’s an air fryer or slow cooker kind of guy.

What Goes On.
Budget hearings roll on in the Senate Appropriations Committee. All meetings are in Hearing Room 1, North Office Building.
10 a.m.: Dept. of Corrections/ Probation & Parole
1 p.m.: Liquor Control Board
3 p.m.: Dept. of Environmental Protection

Gov. Tom Wolf 
heads to Bridgeville, Pa., for a 1:30 p.m. presser to explain his plan to help local families and businesses hurt by recent flooding.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to PennLive’s Megan Lavey Heaton and our former Morning Call colleague, Peter Hall, both of whom celebrate today. Congrats and enjoy the day, folks.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one from Richard Ashcroft. It’s “That’s When I Feel It.”

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Toronto skunked Edmonton 6-2 at home on Wednesday night.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.