(This is the first part of a series profiling the potential running mates of GOP candidate Mitt Romney this election.)
He’s championed as a solid conservative and a budget hawk who will balance the Mitt Romney ticket with a vice presidential running mate who has extensive expertise with the budget matters.
The Republican establishment is reportedly enthusiastic about the prospect of Romney choosing Sen. Rob Portman as his 2012 running mate, especially since the senator represents Ohio – and no Republican has ever been elected president without winning that key battleground state.
Who is Portman?
But who is Portman, and what does his record reveal about him?
Portman has called for a balanced budget, bans on excessive earmarks and federal-spending transparency. A Spanish-speaking Methodist, Portman wrote 12 pieces of legislation signed by former President Bill Clinton.
Analysts and political insiders say Portman’s reputation and experience put him at the very top of Romney’s list of choices for the VP position. The widely rumored favorite has been spending time on the campaign trail with Romney, even traveling through Ohio on Father’s Day with the GOP candidate and his family on the campaign bus.
“Let’s just eliminate the drama and suspense right now. Romney is going to pick Rob Portman,” declared the Daily Beast’s Mark McKinnon, a political strategist who has worked for Republicans and Democrats.
McKinnon is not alone in his prediction. In recent weeks, Portman has been the name making the rounds as the top choice in the Romney VP rumor mill.
The U.S. senator is an attorney who, until recently, practiced law at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. He was a lawmaker in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2005 and served in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet as the U.S. trade representative and as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Portman graduated from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where he majored in anthropology, and earned his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010.
In April, news website BuzzFeed conducted an informal survey of Republican National Committee members gathered in Arizona and reported that two-thirds of state Republican Party chairs and members of the RNC said Portman was both the best and most probable choice for Romney.
Likewise, the Wall Street Journal pegged Portman as a favorite of Republican Party elders and insiders.
“Mr. Portman’s potential to help win Ohio is considered a big plus, because no Republican has won the presidency without carrying the state,” the paper reported. “Mr. Portman won his Senate seat in 2010 with 57% of the vote. And while he is best known for his work on economic issues, he has a strong relationship with social conservatives in the state, many of whom supported Mr. Santorum.”
Portman has a unique and valuable talent in the political world: He is a master of debate, throwing himself into roles of the opposing candidates in mock debates, Yahoo News reports. He has played the roles of Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards and even Obama.
In 2008, when Portman played the role of Obama to help John McCain practice for the second national presidential debate, McCain’s chief economic policy director, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, said he was blown away by his act.
“He did it to the point of irritation,” he said. “… He was not just the positions of Barack Obama – he became Barack Obama. Physical mannerisms, parsing of his voice, everything. He’s obviously the white guy from Cincinnati, but Obama has a particular set of vocal rhythms. Rob got all of that.”
In 2008, Portman was mentioned as a potential running mate for then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain – before then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stole the show.
In 2011, Sen. Portman served on the bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which was formed to slash the federal deficit. When that “super committee” failed, Portman placed the blame squarely on Obama’s shoulders.
“It’s about presidential leadership, and partly – frankly – it’s providing cover to your own party,” he said recently at a fiscal summit in Washington, D.C., in response to a question about the “super-committee’s” troubles coming to an agreement. “I will say that Democrats needed a little help in terms of the super committee. We didn’t have that. In fact, what we had was a veto threat. It wasn’t done just the way President Obama wanted it done, and that’s not leadership.”
He added, “Both Democrats and Republicans are partly to blame because they took their eye off the ball.”
Portman is currently a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Senate Committee on the Budget, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
McKinnon argues that he is a risk-free choice who will “do no harm” to Romney’s campaign.
“He is as safe a bet as they come,” he wrote. “Plenty of experience as a congressman, senator, budget director, and cabinet member. Perfect family. No apparent skeletons in the closet. And he’s from Ohio – the most important swing state. He’s a loyal soldier. Good political instincts and judgment. Solid character and a genuinely nice guy. Almost zero liabilities, which is really what Team Romney wants. Game. Set. Match.”
The GOP establishment and press may be excited about a Romney-Portman ticket, but few in the mainstream media are closely analyzing Portman’s positions on top issues.
North American Free Trade Agreement
Some strategists say Portman’s former role as Bush’s trade negotiator will likely become a liability. He championed the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement. As one of his first acts in the U.S. House of Representatives, Portman voted for NAFTA.
In 2006, Portman, then serving as trade representative, joined Mexican Economy Minister Sergio Garcia de Alba and Canadian International Trade Minister David Emerson at an annual NAFTA convention.
“The NAFTA has been a proven success for Canada, Mexico and the United States,” he declared. “By reducing barriers to trade and enabling more and better commerce between us, all three of our economies have benefited significantly.”
He continued, “Trade relationships of this magnitude demand a solid framework that creates opportunity and provides predictability. With NAFTA as that firm foundation, a robust economic relationship has developed between our three countries and generated benefits for our workers, farmers, manufacturers and service providers.”
Energy and environment
Portman, who notes that he owns hybrid cars, is an advocate of tapping various energy sources. He’s also voted to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“As a U.S. Senator, Rob will champion policies that recognize and harness the power of Ohio’s natural resources – including natural gas, coal, solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, oil, and bio-mass,” his Senate campaign energy plan states.
Portman introduced the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S.1000) with Sen. Shaheen, D-N.H. That legislation required the federal government to adopt “energy-saving techniques” for computers and pushed for federal agencies to install electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It also proposed to increase use of energy-efficiency technologies in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors through home appliance test measures, Energy Star smart appliance credits, refrigerator and freezer standards, implementation of minimum EER standards for room air conditioners, uniform efficiency descriptors for covered water heaters and more.
In 2000, Portman voted for implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meant to fight global warming by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide. The protocol has not been ratified by the U.S.
However, Portman has called cap and trade a “job-killer” energy tax that will drive jobs overseas.
In 2011, Portman parted ways with a majority of GOP senators to vote against an amendment to repeal the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit to subsidize ethanol producers. Ohio is a leading producer of biofuels, including corn-based ethanol. Portman has argued that the federal Environmental Protection Agency should “increase ethanol content in the standard blend from 10 percent to 15 percent for newer vehicles,” which would mean “more production, more jobs for ethanol producing states like Ohio …”
On the environmental side, Portman authored the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, a piece of legislation the Bush White House described as a “program [that] enables eligible low and middle income countries to substitute some portion of their debt obligations to the United States for domestic tropical forest conservation and protection activities.” Portman argued, “Conservation should also be encouraged, including supporting ongoing efforts to restore and protect natural habitats across the globe. Deforestation is considered the second-largest source of CO2 emissions behind coal-fired electric plants.”
Portman also co-sponsored a bill to grant a five-year extension of a credit for producing wind-powered electricity. His campaign’s energy statement notes, “While serving as U.S. Trade Representative, Portman pushed for environmental provisions in trade agreements, which resulted in the inclusion of environmental funding in Central American Free Trade Agreement and stronger restrictions on illegal logging in Southeast Asia.”
He has secured federal funding for several environment clean-up projects, including increasing “budget levels for wetland restoration and protection, to provide a healthy habitat for ducks and migrating waterfowl.”
Economy & federal deficit
Portman has said the economy is the overriding issue for the 2012 election. In a June 13 column posted on Politico, he argued:
Rather than follow Obama’s 1970s-era vision of ever-rising taxes to chase ever-rising spending, we need a pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda. We should pursue pro-growth tax reform by lowering marginal tax rates and pay for it by closing loopholes that only complicate the Tax Code and slow growth.
We should also provide regulatory relief to small businesses, open up more export markets to better reach the 95 percent of the world’s consumers who live abroad and encourage domestic energy production to create jobs and lower prices. We should replace the president’s health care law with a policy that lowers costs by putting consumers in control of their health care and forcing insurance companies to compete for our business. We must also rein in runaway spending to close this staggering budget deficit before we have a fiscal crisis. We can do better.
These pro-growth policies would unshackle the economy and encourage hiring. They would bring long-term sustainability to the budget and new revenues through growth.
There is no reason the economy cannot return to the higher growth that occurred in past recoveries. We have the blueprint; we just need the will.
Portman voted in favor of S. 365, the Budget Control Act of 2011, to raise the federal debt ceiling earlier this year. A dozen years earlier, Portman had co-sponsored an unsuccessful attempt to include an option for $3 contributions on Americans’ IRS 1040 forms to pay off the national debt.
In 2011, Portman rolled out the Senate Republican Jobs Plan, a national version of the plan that he ran on and won in 2010. It called for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, a statutory spending limit and reforming tax codes. The plan also called for increased exports to create jobs, drilling on the outer continental shelf and repeal of Obamacare.
Several analysts say Portman’s record while serving as Bush’s budget director is likely to haunt him if he becomes Romney’s vice president.
As the Office of Management and Budget director from May 26, 2006, to Aug. 3, 2007, Portman oversaw the fiscal year 2008 budget process. With him at the helm, the 2008 deficit was $459 billion – 3.2 percent of the economy as measured by the gross domestic product and more than twice the 2007 deficit of nearly $161 billion (1.2 percent of GDP). (By comparison, President Obama’s 2013 budget deficits are projected to be $977 billion.)
Portman told the Cincinnati Enquirer: “I was there for just over a year and I put out one budget … [which] was actually a balanced budget. And not even over 10 years but over five years and I’m proud of that. Frankly it was a battle within the White House to get the White House and everybody on board with that … but imagine that, a balanced budget.”
Portman opposes abortion and received a 0 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, indicating a pro-life record. In 2003, he voted for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-PA. In 1999, he voted to make it a federal crime to transport a minor child across state lines to obtain an abortion.
In 2004, Portman voted for a constitutional amendment to ban homosexual marriage. In 1999, he voted for a ban on homosexual adoptions in Washington, D.C. In 2011, Portman’s spokesman said, “Rob believes marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman.”
Portman has a mixed record on immigration that troubles some immigration reform organizations.
In 2004, Portman voted against the Hayworth Amendment to H.R. 5006 which would have blocked payments of benefits under the proposed Social Security totalization agreement that was signed with Mexico.
Also in 2004, he voted to strip an amendment to H.R. 5025 that would have banned the use of foreign ID cards in the U.S. In that same year, he voted against the Tancredo Amendment to H.R. 4567, which would have prohibited homeland-security funding from going to states or cities that break federal law with sanctuary policies that protect illegals.
He also voted to prohibit the issuance of driver’s licenses to illegals, to increase the number of Border Patrol agents, to complete the last 14 miles of the San Diego border fence and to give all security screening personnel access to law enforcement and intelligence information maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.
In 2001, Portman voted for an amendment to allow U.S. military personnel to help patrol U.S. borders. However, he voted against requiring hospitals to report illegal aliens who have received treatment.
In 1996, Portman voted for the Chrysler-Berman Amendment to H.R.2202, which would have reduced several extended-family immigration categories. In 1998, he voted against a motion to cut the Section 245(i) amnesty in H.R. 2267 allowing certain illegal aliens to pay a fine and evade a law that punished illegal aliens by banning them for 10 years from entering the U.S. on a visa.
In 1996, he voted against allowing illegal aliens in-state tuition at universities.
Portman has been a supporter of school vouchers for private and parochial schools. He is an advocate for prayer in schools. In fact, he voted in 1994 to restrict federal aid to only schools allowing voluntary prayer.
He voted for the George W. Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act.
Portman, a lifelong hunter, has received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. He has voted to decrease gun waiting periods and opposes restrictions on gun ownership.
Obamacare is a big-government job killer, according to Portman, who wants to repeal the law. In 2009, his website said Washington’s health proposal could raise small-business taxes and force Americans to use government-run plans that are less effective and more expensive.
In 2004, he voted to limit medical malpractice lawsuits. He also supported a bill to allow small companies to group association health plans so they could purchase insurance for employees.
Portman has opposed physician-assisted suicide and supported medical savings accounts that would allow self-employed and taxpayers paying for insurance to deduct health-care premiums on their taxes.
Portman sponsored S. 12., known as the Job Creation Act of 2011, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide additional tax relief for private-sector job creation.
While he was in the House, Portman joined then-Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., to pass an overhaul of the IRS. He also worked with then-Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Md., to pass retirement security legislation increasing the amount of money workers could put into tax-deferred retirement accounts.
In 2004, Portman voted to permanently increase the child tax credit to $1,000 from $700 and indefinitely eliminate the marriage penalty. In 2002, he voted to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. He has also opposed the estate tax. Portman has signed Americans for Tax Reform’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” pledging never to increase taxes.
In a March 14 letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Schulman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Portman, along with 10 GOP senators, told the federal agency they were alarmed by news that it appeared to be targeting conservative groups when determining whether certain political organizations should qualify as nonprofits.
“We have received reports and reviewed information from nonprofit civic organizations in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas concerning recent IRS inquiries perceived to be excessive,” the letter stated. “It is critical that the public have confidence that federal tax compliance efforts are pursued in a fair, even-handed, and transparent manner – without regard to politics of any kind.”
Violence Against Women Act
This year, Portman also voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, a federal law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 that provided federal funding for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. The measure allocated more than $600 million a year for the program
The 2011 bill, sponsored by Vice President Joe Biden, offers and increased number of visas to illegal-alien victims and offers specific protections of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims. Those provisions drew opposition from many Republicans, including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who said his resistance to the legislation is “a vote against big government and inefficient spending, and a vote in favor of state autonomy and local control.”
“We must not allow a desire by some to score political points and an appetite for federal spending to prevent states and localities from efficiently and effectively serving women and other victims of domestic violence,” he said.
Sen. Demint, R-S.C., warned, “This well-intentioned bill goes beyond constitutional limits, forces states to surrender their ability to offer help in specialized, individual ways and fails to stop duplication and inefficiencies at federal agencies.”
Thirty-one Republicans voted against the measure and one didn’t vote. Parting with the majority of his party, Portman joined only 14 other Republicans who voted for the Democrat-backed reauthorization. The bill passed 68-31.
The Concerned Women for America and Independent Women’s Forum have argued that the law devolved into a “slush fund” for the feminist agenda that can punish men unfairly and promote dissolution of marriages.
Phyllis Schlafly, a lawyer, conservative political analyst and co-author of “The Flipside of Feminism,” blasted the Violence Against Women Act’s 2011 reauthorization in her July 12, 2011, WND column.
“Its billion-dollar-a-year price tag spent by the radical feminists to pursue their ideology and goals (known as feminist pork) make it an embarrassment to members of Congress who voted for it,” she wrote.
The following are some problematic issues Schlafly cites:
- “Starting with its title, VAWA is just about as sex discriminatory as legislation can get. It is written and implemented to oppose the abuse of women and to punish men.”
- “Ignoring the mountain of evidence that women initiate physical violence nearly as often as men, VAWA has more than 60 passages in its lengthy text that exclude men from its benefits. For starters, the law’s title should be changed to Partner Violence Reduction Act, and the words ‘and men’ should be added to those 60 sections. …”
- “Currently used definitions of domestic violence that are unacceptably trivial include calling your partner a naughty word, raising your voice, causing ‘annoyance’ or ’emotional distress,’ or just not doing what your partner wants. The law’s revision should use an accurate definition of domestic violence that includes violence, such as: ‘any act or threatened act of violence, including any forceful detention of an individual, which results or threatens to result in physical injury.'”
- “Women who make domestic violence accusations are not required to produce evidence and are never prosecuted for perjury if they lie. Accused men are not accorded fundamental protections of due process, not considered innocent until proven guilty and in many cases are not afforded the right to confront their accusers.”
- “Feminist recipients of VAWA handouts lobby legislators, judges and prosecutors on the taxpayers’ dime (which is contrary to Section 1913 of Title 18, U.S. Code), and the results are generally harmful to all concerned. This lobbying has resulted in laws calling for mandatory arrest (i.e., the police must arrest someone – guess who) of the predominant aggressor (i.e., ignore the facts and assume the man is the aggressor) and no-drop prosecution (i.e., prosecute the man even if the woman has withdrawn her accusation or refuses to testify).”
Other notable votes
In 2011 and 2012, Portman has voted against the following:
- repealing sugar subsidies
- authorizing importation of FDA-approved prescription drugs from Canada
- establishing a minimum 30 percent tax rate for high-income taxpayers
- repealing authorization of the use of military force against Iraq
- adopting an amendment that appropriates $6.95 billion for disaster-relief agencies, such as FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Housing and Urban development
- reducing unobligated appropriations for foreign assistance programs
Also in 2011 and 2012, he has voted for the following:
- reducing funding for food stamps
- prohibiting FDA approval of genetically engineered fish
- approving the Keystone XL Pipeline Project
- prohibiting insider trading by government officials
- prohibit Congress from considering any bill, resolution, amendment or conference report that includes earmarks
- extending the temporary payroll tax holiday until Feb. 29
- extending emergency unemployment benefits program
- a joint resolution to submit a constitutional amendment to state legislatures to prohibit the federal government from spending money in excess of its revenue (starting five years after the amendment’s ratification)
- limiting farm subsidies to those with incomes under $1 million
- prohibiting the use of funds for prosecution of enemy combatants in civilian courts
- prohibiting the appointment of presidential “czars” without Senate approval
- extending the Patriot Act until June 1, 2015
- advance a bill for consideration that expands oil and gas drilling in United States coastal waters
- prohibiting Transportation Security Administration employees from collective bargaining
- repealing the federal health-care law