Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Trump Suggests Bringing Back Pork After ‘Drain the Swamp’ Campaign

  • President suggests lawmakers revive practice of earmarks
  • Yearns for era when pork ‘brought everybody together’

President Donald Trump, who came to Washington vowing to “drain the swamp,” mused Tuesday about lifting the ban on congressional earmarks, the practice of larding legislation with pork-barrel payoffs.

Earmarks, which are provisions in legislation channeling federal funding to specific projects, have long been derided for encouraging wasteful or unnecessary spending to benefit politicians’ home-district constituencies, allies and donors. Yet some Washington veterans celebrate the role they once played greasing the operation of Congress, encouraging members to overcome differences so they could partake.

With Washington in the midst of another standoff as Republicans and Democrats work to avert a partial government shutdown, the president suggested lawmakers should "look at a form of earmarks" in an effort to improve bipartisanship and legislative deal making.

"Maybe all of you should start thinking about going back to a system of earmarks," Trump told lawmakers gathered at the White House on Tuesday for a meeting on immigration, a contentious issue now linked to the spending legislation. "One thing it did is it brought everybody together.”

Earmarks emerged as an emblem of corruption and profligacy in the 2006 congressional election campaign in which Republicans lost control of Congress.

A $400 million "Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska tucked into a transportation bill captured the public imagination that year. So did a scandal in which California Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham was convicted of providing earmarks for defense contractors in return for more than $2 million in bribes, including providing him a rent-free yacht he used as his home while in Washington

The number of earmarks in legislation exploded after Republicans won control of the U.S. House in 1994, growing to 13,997 earmarks costing $27.3 billion in 2005, according to Citizens Against Government Waste’s “Pig Book.”

Former House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, barred the practice when the GOP retook the House of Representatives in 2010.

House Republicans are now debating whether to revive the legislative tool. Trump said Congress should "put controls" on earmarks so things didn’t get "out of hand."

Critics of the practice swiftly condemned the idea.

“Earmarks are the antithesis of the ‘drain the swamp’ election that sent President Trump to the White House,” Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said in a statement. “They are corrupt, inequitable, and wasteful. We urge President Trump to reconsider and withdraw his recommendation upon consideration of the sordid history of earmarks.”

“If Republicans bring back earmarks, then it virtually guarantees that they will lose the House,” added David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, in a statement, saying they “will only benefit the special interests that grow government at the expense of working men and women.”

But White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump against the criticism.

“The president said you had to be careful with that and have controls on earmarks,” Sanders said. “The broader point the president was making is that partisan politics have become a big problem in Washington.”

The idea gained an immediate endorsement from one attendee at the White House meeting - Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican.

"Starting with the Port of Charleston," said Graham, referring to a home-state transportation hub that would benefit from federal largess.

House Republican leaders including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who represents California, did not respond when asked about the president’s comments following the meeting.

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