Cleveland Jewish News - Republican Mike DeWine Seeks Re-Election to Senate
Cleveland Jewish News
Marilyn H. Karfeld
On May 11, Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine voted for a $70 billion package to extend tax cuts for investors, and to move along a stalled immigration reform bill.
That same day, the Senate intelligence committee member parried media questions about the National Security Agency's keeping records on Americans' domestic phone calls.
And on May 12, the Republican senator announced that Cleveland's NASA Glenn Research Center has landed a $2 billion space exploration project expected to create hundreds of high-paying jobs.
DeWine, 59, sat down with the CJN late last week to talk about those issues and others that voters will consider in his November race against Democratic challenger Rep. Sherrod Brown of Avon.
As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and potentially among those briefed by the White House on the NSA surveillance activities, DeWine refused to comment on the data mining of Americans' phone records.
However, he pointedly repeated his concerns about last December's New York Times report that since 9/11, the NSA had been monitoring, without warrants, calls between the US and foreign countries.
"The president has the authority in time of emergency to take action to protect the country," says DeWine. "But, after a reasonable period of time, he's obliged to go to Congress to get specific statutory authority to continue that type of program."
"Four years is long enough without statutory authority."
In fact, DeWine thinks 45 days is long enough. In March, he and three Republican senators introduced legislation permitting warrantless domestic counter-terrorism surveillance for 45 days. After that, the administration would have to get a warrant from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court or explain to congressional terrorism surveillance subcommittees why the spying needs to continue.
Lawmakers would still would have no authority to end the surveillance, but Congress could bring pressure by conducting hearings or cutting off funds, the Washington Post reported.
Although the bill has not yet passed, DeWine says he's pleased that the administration and intelligence community have agreed to form the subcommittees. "There is much more oversight now, but it's not in statute. It should be."
More likely to become law is a compromise on controversial immigration reform legislation. House Republicans have sought tougher border enforcement while GOP senators have also proposed a guest worker program as a route for illegal aliens to eventually become citizens.
"We're a nation of immigrants and of laws," DeWine told the CJN, before the president's Monday night speech on immigration. "We need a bill to combine the two concepts."
He proposes a bill to tighten border security ("the American people don't believe we're making a serious effort") and one that will move undocumented immigrants out of "the shadows of society" into the "light of day."
After five years of working in this country, undocumented immigrants would be eligible to register so they could work legally, DeWine says. They must pay a stiff fine, stay out of legal trouble, learn English, and continue to work for another six years.
Then, they can "get in line" to become US citizens. "Anything else is not realistic," DeWine says. "It creates a permanent underclass. That's a dangerous thing."
The proposed legislation would not give illegal immigrants amnesty, insists DeWine, whose stance on immigration reform has angered conservatives who only want tougher border restrictions. "This is not waving a wand and saying, 'OK, you're in.'"
Although the federal deficit is estimated to balloon to over $400 billion this year and a budget plan pending in the House would raise the national debt ceiling to nearly $10 trillion, DeWine joined all but three Republican senators in voting to extend lower tax rates for investment income. The $70 billion tax-cut package also spares millions of upper middle-income Americans from having their taxes increased through the alternative minimum income tax.
At the same time, DeWine and like-minded senators declined to include tax deductions for tuition payments and for teachers' out-of-pocket classroom expenses, savings that would benefit middle-class Americans.
DeWine makes no apologies for the bill's favoring wealthy investors. The tax cuts, he insists, are good for the economy and job creation, despite the soaring federal deficit and national debt.
Northeast Ohio's economy lags behind much of the rest of the country, acknowledges DeWine, a Miami University-educated former congressman who first ran for the Senate in 1992 while he was Ohio lieutenant governor. He lost to Democratic Sen. John Glenn but won retiring Sen. Howard Metzenbaums seat two years later.
Helping Ohio's economy is high on his agenda, says the Yellow Springs native, whose parents ran a small agricultural business.
He touts his efforts to obtain fair trade agreements to help Ohio's steel industry. In 1999, he wrote the Byrd amendment, named after sponsor Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). This legislation gave the penalty money collected from foreign steel producers who illegally dumped steel to US steel manufacturers filing the complaints. In effect, this was a manufacturing subsidy.
Ohio steel producers were the biggest beneficiaries of the law, but the World Trade Organization said it was an illegal trade practice.
So the Senate included repeal of the Byrd amendment in this year's budget bill. DeWine voted against the budget bill, joining only five Republicans who bucked the party line, forcing Vice President Dick Cheney to vote and break a 50-50 tie. With the bill's passage, the Byrd amendment's manufacturing subsidy is being phased out.
DeWine has also voted for federal funding to support medical research, which he calls a bright spot in the Northeast Ohio economy. Grants of $4 to $5 million will improve regenerative medicine studies through adult stem cell research.
However, DeWine remains opposed to government support for the potentially life-saving therapies promised by embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. "I believe taxpayer dollars should not be used to destroy human life," says the father of eight, married for 38 years to wife Fran. "A lot of progress can be made with adult cells."
He's also in favor of legislation that outlaws abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother's life.
Two months ago, DeWine signed on to co-sponsor a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Democrats accuse him of doing an about face to pick up support from the religious right, because he seemingly took the opposite position two years ago.
Then, he infuriated Ohio conservatives by opposing Issue 1, the 2004 Ohio constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
He also declined to sponsor the 2004 gay-marriage amendment to the US Constitution, which ultimately failed to make it through the Senate.
While Democrats criticize his shift on the issue, conservatives say his late but welcome decision to join the gay-marriage battle may send him back to the Senate.
DeWine recognizes the apparent discrepancy in his position, but says the 2004 federal amendment failed to follow proper procedure by going through the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member.
He insists it was the wording of Ohio's Issue 1 that he opposed. "It was vague. I thought it could lead to litigation and it has." Since its passage, lawsuits have challenged the validity of domestic violence statutes for those living together, but not married.
DeWine also angered some conservative leaders last year by helping broker a deal with Democrats to confirm some of President Bush's controversial appellate court appointments, yet preserve the Senate filibuster to block judicial nominations "in extraordinary circumstances."
As the religious right promotes its conservative social-issues agenda in an effort to galvanize right-wing voters, Jews have expressed concerns that minorities will suffer during what they see as a growing Christianization of America.
But Patriot Pastors preaching from the pulpit to instruct the faithful how to vote do not disturb DeWine. "We have another important value: freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas," he says. "I get nervous about anyone censoring ideas they don't like."
Still, DeWine says the values enshrined in the Constitution also include freedom of religion or freedom not to believe in God. "We always have to be mindful of the fact that we are a diverse country. We have to be vigilant about bedrock principles, including separation of church and state."
Although a maverick on occasion, DeWine has voted most of the time to support the Bush administration's legislative agenda. For instance, he voted for the controversial Medicare prescription drug benefit, which he concedes is not perfect.
"While it's more complicated than people would like, in the end, a lot of Ohioans have (drug) coverage who did not have coverage and a lot are saving a lot of money," hinting that he was considering legislation to extend the May 15 sign-up deadline. This week, he co-introduced a bill to do just that.
He also voted for the war in Iraq and for its funding. "We went in with the right intentions," he notes. "The troops have done a magnificent job."
DeWine does not mention President Bush's handling of the war. Instead, he singles out for criticism Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who made "major mistakes" in not putting enough troops in Iraq. "History will be a harsh judge in that respect," DeWine predicts.
While he opposes a deadline to pull out troops, he says, "We can only do so much. In the end, it's up to Iraqis. We must make clear our patience is not going to last forever."
Similarly, he doesn't fault Bush for not focusing enough on Iran. He approves of the administration's attempts to get Russia, China or European nations to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. "We're not going to take off the table the military option, but this is not the preferred option," he says.
Always a strong supporter of Israel, DeWine was one of 12 sponsors of a bipartisan Senate bill that restricts aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government until it renounces terrorism and publicly recognizes Israel's right to exist. The bill allows food, medicine and other humanitarian aid, providing it is not administered by the Palestinian government.
"It's very difficult to do humanitarian aid without propping up Hamas," DeWine acknowledges. "The balance is how to not hurt innocent children and not provide aid and comfort to a terrorist organization."
While the Senate votes on aid to foreign countries, DeWine says decisions about settlements in the West Bank and the security barrier are best left to the Israelis. "We should not try to make decisions on sovereign issues for Israel, which has a vibrant democracy."
Closer to DeWine's heart is another measure the Jewish community has applauded. The 1998 Nazis War Crimes Disclosure Act, which DeWine co-introduced, created an interagency group that has declassified over 8 million government documents from the Holocaust era. Making these documents public has rolled back the date of when the US knew about the Nazi extermination of Jews, DeWine notes. It's also provided information on the government program to bring Nazi scientists to this country after the war.
Every couple of years, DeWine says, he hears that the CIA is "dragging its heels. I have to bring them (CIA) into the conference room and prod them along. Their natural instinct is 'we don't disclose anything. We just don't do it.'"