Michael A. Needham has been described in various news profiles over the years as "too conservative" for GOP stalwarts such as former House Speaker John Boehner, as the Republican Party's "loathed ideological commissar," and as "a huge asshole." For years, Needham chaired the Heritage Action Fund, the lobbying wing of the ultraconservative, billionaire-funded Heritage Foundation. Needham's lobbying group has done more than nearly any other group in Washington to turn the GOP into a group of outright libertarian nut jobs — if you're wondering why seemingly moderate Republicans over the years have become hellbent on cutting people's health insurance, chopping away bank regulations, and quoting Ayn Rand all over the place, it's partly because Heritage Action attacks any Republican who strays from that party line.
Well, Needham left Heritage this week to become Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's new chief of staff. This should worry Floridians. For what it's worth, Rubio is already a staunch conservative, but he paints himself as a moderate in certain corners of the mainstream media, and reporters keep falling for it — his voting record
1. "The future Tea Party rabble-rouser grew up on the Upper East Side. He attended Collegiate, a prestigious New York prep school, then Williams. As a political science major and, eventually, the editor of the college newspaper, Needham loved to provoke his liberal classmates, arguing that Social Security was unnecessary and that the minimum wage hurt the working poor."
This quote from Julia Ioffe's 2013 profile about Needham for the New Republic displays his far-right fanaticism in a nutshell: He grew up rich and insulated from hardship and spends his days arguing that social-safety-net programs he's never had to use are somehow hurting people he'll likely never spent time with.
2. "Amnesty comes in many forms, but it seems they all eventually grow in size and scope. Any proposal that expands the amnesty-eligible population risks opening Pandora's box. That should be a nonstarter."
Unlike Rubio, Needham is a hard-core immigration hardliner. Despite the fact that he represents a certain section of the genteel, smooth-talking Republican establishment in D.C., Needham is in lockstep with some of the harshest anti-immigrant voices in America, from Donald Trump to Tucker Carlson to more outright racists in some of the fringe corners of the internet. Needham doesn't say outlandish things like "Mexicans are rapists," but the impact of his ideas is exactly the same: He's long said he opposes any form of "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants and is particularly concerned about "chain migration," in which people granted access to the country are allowed to sponsor other family members.
3. "From the start of the discussion about how best to address the border crisis before Congress's summer recess, House conservatives insisted that whatever border-security provisions Congress considered would be woefully inadequate unless passed in conjunction with language ending the White House's unilateral Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy that had drawn so many young migrants on the dangerous journey from Central America to the United States."
Needham let this one slip in a 2016 essay for National Affairs — he's smart enough to avoid saying outright what he thinks the impacts of his own policies would be, but here it's starkly clear: In his eyes, refugees can go screw themselves. He claims programs such as DACA "encourage" migrants to make the "dangerous journey" to the U.S., ignoring the facts that (1) migrants were doing this before DACA was a thing, (2) DACA recipients almost universally were brought here as children without making that choice for themselves, and (3) many of these people are fleeing nightmarish conditions that the United States in some cases created (see El Salvador, Guatemala, etc.).
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4. "The single most encouraging counterexample to this history of failed efforts at slow progress through compromise and consolidation of political capital is the welfare reform of the mid-1990s. But that reform was only achieved by dragging a reluctant president to the negotiating table through the very sort of supposed intransigence now criticized by the opponents of the Tea Party. And as Robert Rector and Jennifer Marshall have described in these pages, even that package left most of the means-tested welfare system unreformed."
You see that last bit? The part where he says Bill Clinton's landmark welfare "reform" bills didn't go far enough? The number of people on welfare dropped from 12.6 million in the mid-'90s to 4.6 million in 2012 thanks to Clinton's efforts to make it more difficult to access welfare benefits. In the meantime, extreme poverty increased and the government didn't wind up saving any money. Needham
Last year's Obamacare repeal packages were too nice for Needham and Heritage Action. He wanted a full Obamacare repeal. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that repealing the Affordable Care Act with no replacement would cut insurance from 32 million people. When you cut medical insurance, people literally die.