Senator John Thune is not quick to criticize President Donald Trump or other Republican leaders, but that doesn't mean he always agrees with their policies.
Sen. Thune met with the Rapid City Journal editorial board this week. He said his place at the table as Majority Whip was most important at those times when he disagrees with Senate leaders or the administration.
"You try as a member of the leadership to be the best team player that you can," Thune said. "If the direction is crosswise with South Dakota, that's where I will make my stand. I think it is helpful to have a seat at the table where your voice is being heard. I can try to at least shape a policy before it is announced."
Some important areas where Sen. Thune has been at odds with others in his party have been on trade policies and agreements that have hurt South Dakota farmers.
"The new Japan deal is great for livestock. It is tailored after TPP (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) I wish we would have agreed to stay in that. It would have been a great deal for South Dakota," Thune said. "There are good things happening in the ag world. There are some bad things in the ag world - the weather we had last year and the trade impacts of the tariffs, especially with China - we're hoping the lenders are still willing to work with farmers for another year."
When it comes to impeachment, Thune said he wants a fair hearing of testimony from both sides.
"I think we have to make sure that both sides have an opportunity to be heard. That was lacking on the House side," Sen. Thune said. "Both sides will have an opportunity to make the case."
You have free articles remaining.
But Thune was quick to say he didn't want to see the process drag out with a Presidential election looming.
"There are a lot of people who view this process as one, time-consuming, two not going anywhere, and three not relevant to their daily lives and want to see it over," he said. "If you ask most people and give them the option between impeaching and removing the President or having voters decide in November, it is overwhelmingly in favor of letting the voters decide."
One instance where the Senator was most willing to break ranks with others in the GOP leadership was on what happened during the 2016 election. Some GOP leaders have signaled to constituents that Russia didn't interfere with the 2016 election - or at least they weren't the only country to do so. Thune sides with the Senate Intelligence Committee that plainly stated that Russia interfered in the electoral process and could again.
"It is important that we keep our elections clean. It was Russia that interfered in the 2016 election," Sen. Thune said. "Trying to change the narrative about that I don't think is constructive or helpful. We need to acknowledge that and make sure there is no further meddling going forward."
Sen. Thune also discussed how social media has encroached into the legislative process. Compromise is seen as a betrayal of the party by many partisan people and social media platforms allow them to take aim at legislators who work with someone across the aisle to get a bill passed. Thune pointed to his TRACED Act as an example of how the legislative process can work. He worked with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) to get the bill passed. But blocking unwanted robocalls isn't a partisan issue, so that bill sailed through the House and Senate and has been signed by the President. Bills with any partisan component don't fare as well.
"Social media has completely, dramatically changed the way things happen and business is done in politics," Thune said. "What you have to remember is that there is a small number of people who are on Twitter and a smaller amount who are actually paying attention to what is happening in politics. It is easy to get sucked into a myopic bubble and think that small group speaks for everyone."
He said the partisanship in politics isn't causing people to become more divided. Thune believes that the culture drives politics instead of the reverse.
"People say why is politics so divided?" he said. "To me, politics is downstream from the culture and not the other way around. What happens in politics is what is happening in the rest of the country. The tone is a lot less civil. There are fewer people who are willing to accept new information."