Politics & Government

Republican Rep. Sanford readying fresh challenges to Trump

Rep. Mark Sanford on Trump’s NAFTA threats

US Rep. Mark Sanford says ending NAFTA, as Trump has threatened, would be catastrophic. Sanford and other members of SC's legislative delegation spoke to the SC Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, August 23.
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US Rep. Mark Sanford says ending NAFTA, as Trump has threatened, would be catastrophic. Sanford and other members of SC's legislative delegation spoke to the SC Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, August 23.

Rep. Mark Sanford has been unafraid to challenge Donald Trump’s politics, policies and actions since the president’s arrival on the national stage -- and shows no signs of relenting even though he’s fighting a primary challenger whose big pitch is that she’ll always stand with Trump.

When Congress returns next week, Sanford will renew his push, seeking three changes to a pending spending bill that will inevitably be viewed by Republicans on and off Capitol Hill through an anti-Trump prism.

“My attraction to public policy has always been based on ideas and the power of ideas,” Sanford told McClatchy. “It’s never been personal, it’s never been directed towards any one individual or away from any one individual.”

His proposals have little chance of succeeding, but if they are considered -- a decision GOP leaders will have to make -- they’ll force fellow Republicans to effectively vote on whether or not they back Trump.

Sanford’s first proposal would restrict funds from being used to ban travel between the United States and Cuba. Earlier this year, Trump reversed the Barack Obama-era action to normalize relations between the two countries after years of sanctions aimed at pressuring the communist dictatorship to step aside.

The amendment is in keeping with Sanford’s longstanding crusade against Cuban sanctions, arguing they haven’t worked and that restricting travel is a violation of the constitutional right to travel freely.

Another amendment would block the reopening of the Atlantic Ocean to leasing for oil and natural gas drilling. This is another case where Trump reversed an Obama administration order to close the Atlantic for such leases out of concern for the environment.

Sanford, whose district stretches along the coast, opposes the practice, while many other Republicans argue it’s perfectly safe and a way to advance America’s energy independence.

Finally, Sanford wants to prevent the Secret Service from exceeding existing spending caps on securing Trump’s many properties around the country.

The Secret Service is required to protect the White House, Camp David, the president’s primary residence outside of Washington and any other abode the First Family might want to visit. For all other full-time protection of properties, there is supposed to be a limit on how much can be spent.

The Secret Service has blown through this ceiling since Trump has many homes. Sanford wants to force the agency to ask Congress for money and have lawmakers approve it, rather than giving the Secret Service a “blank check” to continue spending without a true limit.

“One does not have to run for president,” said Sanford. “If one does, you are provided a very nice residence in Washington, D.C., unlimited access to as many different friends as you want to visit, Camp David for the weekends, and New York as your primary home.

“But if you happen to be somebody with 10 or 15 additional residences, does the taxpayer have to pick up unlimited coverage for those, too?” he asked. “I think this is an important debate. If somebody doesn’t raise this question now, we’re going to be over $100 million.”

On Wednesday, S.C. State Rep. Katie Arrington launched her primary campaign against Sanford. While she did not criticize him directly for his needling of the administration, she promised that she would “have the fight and courage to stand with President Trump on pushing for conservative reforms, not bash him to leftist cheerleaders, especially those watching CNN.”

Sanford emphasized to McClatchy he is not trying to be antagonistic.

“This has nothing to do with Donald Trump,” he said. “Right now, some would draw the conclusion I am against Trump based on a number of amendments not lining up where his policies happen to be but that is a an unfortunate coincidence. I want to work with the president any way that I can, and where I can agree with the administration in advancing ideas that are consistent with limited government and conservative philosophy.”

Meanwhile, Sanford isn't only catching heat from a candidate who thinks he hasn't been sufficiently supportive of Trump. In the First Congressional District, Democrat Joe Cunningham is campaigning on the message that Sanford has associated himself with the president too often, particularly in voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Sanford has never said whether he voted for Trump for president, but strongly suggested throughout the campaign season he had concerns about his candidacy. After backing Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the South Carolina GOP presidential primary, Sanford went on to publish an op-ed in the New York Times saying his vote might hinge on whether Trump released his tax returns.

In March, Sanford said he was told that Trump wanted to run a primary challenger against him in retaliation for not supporting the House Republicans' original health care bill. Sanford went on to vote for revised legislation and, unlike other congressional Republicans, Trump has so far not made the incumbent congressman a target of his wrathful tweets.

Contact: Emma Dumain at edumain@mcclatchydc.com