Nebraska Democrat Lady Just Might Ride Trump's Trade Wars Into US Senate
When you think "Nebraska Senator," the name that tends to come to mind is the state's junior US senator, Ben Sasse, who made a passionate speech about how insulting Donald Trump was to Christine Blasey Ford last week, then went right ahead and confirmed Brett Kavanaugh. Sasse is reasonably good at getting headlines; back in 2014, he proposed moving the US capitol to Nebraska, because "in touch with the people." He's a practical kind of guy. But unless you live in or near Nebraska, we bet the name of the state's senior US senator (also a Republican, surprise!), Deb Fischer, didn't spring right to mind. She's "senior" only by two years, having first been elected to the Senate in 2012, and generally not all that visible in the national news. And now that Nebraska farmers -- and manufacturers, even! -- are getting burned big time by Donald Trump's trade wars, Deb Fischer might just be vulnerable to being upset by an upstart Democrat, Lincoln city council member Jane Raybould, who's been hammering Trump -- and Fischer -- on how bad the tariffs have been bad for Nebraska. In a state where only a third of voters are registered as Democrats, it's just possible this is the year Raybould could manage a big upset, because while Nebraska went big for Trump in 2016, two years later his policies are bringing the state pain.
Raybould has been banking on several factors: there's that dissatisfaction on trade, and to a lesser extent, hope that national Republicans will be complacent when it comes to the Nebraska race. And if Deb Fischer is a bit of a national nonentity, she's definitely a known quantity in Nebraska, where polling late last year and early this year showed Fischer with low approval ratings -- around 35 percent in two polls, with disapproval rates in the forties. Unfortunately, pollsters seem to be overlooking Nebraska even more than the big campaign money, so we aren't seeing a more recent numbers, even for the Senate race itself, where the most recent poll we saw was from January. Raybould was down double digits then, but with a month to go, and with Fischer having voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, there may be a lot of angry Nebraska women willing to get involved in the final month of the race.
Fischer isn't exactly a shining light on women's issues -- with a whole lot of zero ratings from NARAL and Planned Parenthood, and on sexual harassment, she's especially open to criticism, not least because of Kavanaugh. She also was one of several Republicans in 2016 who bravely dropped their endorsements of Donald Trump following the Access Hollywood tape (TWO YEARS AGO TODAY), then bravely re-endorsed Trump when Republicans said, "Oh, we're good with rapey guys."
Fischer also supported a Republican "alternative" to an equal pay bill that would have actually REDUCED protections for workers if employers screwed them over on salary. It was a very bad bill. And yes, of course Fischer opposed the Democrats' equal pay bill, because it would be bad for job creators, you know.
Big surprise: Fischer is also terrible on healthcare, labor, and education, and votes with Trump 92 percent of the time. Can Raybould capitalize on Fischer's vote for Kavanaugh? That'll depend on Nebraska women, and there's little reason to think they'll be any less pissed off about the confirmation than women elsewhere.
Trump's disastrous trade policies have been Raybould's biggest issue, though. One in four jobs in Nebraska is related to agriculture, and Raybould, who runs a statewide chain of grocery stores, is well placed to understand how the trade wars affect the entire supply chain. She calls depressed prices for corn and soybeans "a Washington-made trade crisis that is hurting Nebraska farmers," adding, "Senator Fischer is nowhere to be seen."
In August, Raybould said she'd be far better at advocating for Nebraskans on trade than Fischer, who has been limited to quietly saying "but farmers..." to Trump even as he accelerates tariffs on US trade partners. Fischer even picked up an opponent in the Republican primary this year, Todd Watson, who said Fischer hasn't done enough to stand up to Trump on how the tariffs are hurting farmers.
Raybould, for her part, promises she'll work to put some teeth back in the Senate's power to regulate trade, a power given to it by the Constitution, which specifically says tariffs must be approved by the Senate. In recent decades, of course, Congress has largely ceded that power to the executive. Get a crappy executive, and you need a Senate that will do its job, don't you think?
Fischer, for her part, seems content to think she'll be more influential by quietly whispering at Trump, as if that ever worked. She's refused to even sign on to Sasse-sponsored bills to reassert the Senate's primacy on tariffs, because "I only support bills when I know what they say." And as for actually standing up to the Great Man, why would she even think of that?
Fischer says she won't resort to the "obstructionist" tactics Raybould promises because she says they'll only harden Trump in his positions on trade, not move him, and risk cutting the state off from help producers need.
It's better to have a seat at the table than to throw it over, Fischer said, and Cabinet officials return fewer calls to people who anger the president.
Such a profile in courage! Mustn't anger Dear Leader, lest he flip over the table himself.
Raybould, on the other hand, has called attention to how Nebraska companies are already suffering, like Behlen Manufacturing, in Lincoln, which already uses US steel -- but which has seen its costs go up because of the tariffs, even as competitors look for other suppliers. Or Union Pacific Railroad, based in Omaha, which uses extra-long rails made only in Japan. There simply aren't any US makers of the things, which the railroad says are vital for safety:
"While Union Pacific purchases domestic rail, we install longer rail from Japan on higher tonnage routes," Union Pacific said in a statement to The World-Herald. "The 480-foot continuous rail reduces accidents caused by welds required to connect shorter track sections."
The railroad has touted those longer sections of rail, which it gets from Japan's Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp., as safer because only two welds are needed to create quarter-mile lengths, representing an 88 percent reduction in the number of welds.
Those long rails on straightaways have helped contribute to 17 percent fewer derailments since 2015, which seems like kind of a big thing. It's almost as if Trump doesn't have any understanding of how helping out one industry hurts others, huh? But at least Fischer is happy to go along with him as he keeps lying about what great deals he makes.
Raybould is also hitting Fischer for being beholden to special interests, and on her rather curious financial position: since taking office, Fischer's net worth has increased from $300,000 in 2012, to over $4 million this year. Which makes for a pretty good ad:
In an August debate, Raybould asked what gives. Fischer said only that farmers and ranchers like her certainly understand that agriculture can be a boom and bust business. Without going into detail on her own finances, Fischer explained after the debate
that the nature of the business means ranchers might be flush with cash one minute — after the sale of cattle or after a cash-flow loan distributes money. At other times, ranchers might be cash poor, she said, including before cattle are sold.
While Raybould had no specifics to suggest the incumbent was up to anything improper, she maintained it certainly looked Fischy, and called on Fischer to release her tax returns to settle any doubt. But nah, Fischer pulled a Trump on that one. Transparency is such an old-fashioned idea, like demanding that judges not be screamy partisans who Republicans happily rush onto the Supreme Court despite credible accusations of sexual assault, which also don't need to be fully investigated.
Nebraskans, you can do a lot better. And Wonkette would like to help! Let's all send some money to Jane Raybould, huh?
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