The Martha McSally who ran for Congress in 2012 would not recognize herself today. Then, she was a retired Air Force Colonel mounting two unsuccessful House bids in Arizona, running as a post-partisan leader who would take the lead on immigration and deficit reduction. Then, she presented herself someone with “authenticity” who would not just repeat 15-second sound bites.
McSally won her seat in 2014 after promising to vote against her party more than 20 percent of the time but instead voted with Donald Trump 97.4 percent of the time.. She called the mounting national debt her “number one concern” and cited national security concerns like immigration and border security as one of the top three issues.
But she has since then reversed course on a number of policy issues and campaign promises. Today, McSally is a second-term Republican U.S. representative and senate candidate who has largely abandoned those 2012 values in favor of becoming a pro-Trump partisan.
ThinkProgress reviewed dozens of McSally’s radio interviews, television appearances, campaign speeches, and candidate debates from her 2012 campaigns and compared them with her record and rhetoric today. Though she frequently promised to lead, “knuckle down” and worry less about “the next election than the next generation,” on those issues, she has done little to keep her promises and has often completely flip-flopped.
“A fence is not gonna do it”
In speech after speech, 2012 McSally made clear that she did not support the idea of a Trump-style border wall between the United States and Mexico. Her stock answer to questions about how to address illegal immigration noted the large portion of the border located in the congressional district and proposed a multi-part “smart” and “strategic” approach.
“I’m a military officer,” McSally explained that February. “So we need to use technologies that are there to actively physically security it, using physical means: sensors, fences, barriers — fences where appropriate — sensors, lights airborne capabilities, intelligence driven operations. I mean we’re doing this 11 and a half time zones away in Afghanistan. We can at least do it in our backyard in Mexico.”
Two months later, at a primary debate, she explicitly rejected the idea of a border-long wall. “This is a complex issue that can’t be answered in 30 seconds, but a fence is not gonna do it.”
Her view has since shifted. In January, she told Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs that her “highest priorities” include building a wall. In another interview with him in April, she said she was pushing her colleagues to pass legislation with $38 billion in taxpayer dollars to “fully fund” Trump’s proposed border wall — the one Trump still pretends will be paid for entirely by Mexico. “Walls work,” she claimed in May.
Now, she’s so keen on walls that in a March meeting at the White House to discuss immigration enforcement, she complained about “sanctuary cities” in her neighbor state California, suggesting “we might need to build a wall between California and Arizona as well, to keep these dangerous criminals out of our state.”
DACA is “not even a top 20 priority of the American people”
McSally’s positions on DACA and protections for young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children have seemingly evolved and evolved back in just six years. And her staff reportedly tried to scrub video of her earlier comments from the Internet.
As a 2012 candidate, she virulently opposed the idea of the DREAM Act or protections for undocumented kids. In an April debate, she noted that she taught international leaders that “rule of law is the foundation of democracy” and must be upheld at all costs. “We’ve got to make sure that, if crimes have been committed, people are breaking our laws, that we don’t have any sort of amnesty.” She instead suggested that opportunities should be reserved for citizens who are “standing in line to go to college” and who serve in the military.
Four months later, she told a GOP forum that she understood that some people have a “humanitarian concern for those who came here as children, but the reality is that there were laws broken by the parents for them to come here.”
By 2017, her view had changed significantly. At a February town hall, she said that while she disagreed with Obama’s use of executive action to implement DACA, “I also live in the world that we’re in” in which over 750,000 came forward, went through background checks, and gave their biometric info with the understanding that they would be extended legal recognition and protection from deportation. She called those in her party who wanted to round up those kids “ridiculous” and said she was “quietly working with leadership in the House and behind the scenes in the administration” to find a long-term solution. “We’ve got to solve this issue, know that I’m committed to it,” she pledged.
That June, she gave a similar defense of DACA beneficiaries at a hearing with then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. She urged the administration to ensure that the 57,000 people protected by the program in Arizona would not face deportation. CNN reported on Thursday that McSally’s office apparently has since removed the video of that hearing from her YouTube page.
Just months later, by the end of 2017, McSally’s concern for DREAMers had disappeared. She lambasted Democratic efforts to pass a clean DACA bill and to tie a budget deal to the issue. “Ultimately the Democrats are gonna have to decide: are they willing to hold our military hostage in order to support these illegal aliens?” she asked in one television interview. In January 2018, she blasted Democrats in Congress for “dicking around” on immigration, telling Fox News that their DACA demands amounted to “trying to come up with some issue that’s not even a top-20 priority of the American people.” Days later, she claimed it was in fact the Democrats who “don’t care about DREAMers.”
By last month, her 360-degree position change on the issue was complete. She told Fox Business that Trump, who has moved to rescind DACA protections, deported former beneficiaries, and used the issue as a bargaining chip for his immigration policies, “has shown he’s willing to do something reasonable on DACA, but we’ve gotta make sure we’re not creating more incentives for more Illegal activity.”
“A rising mountain of federal debt”
Even more than it focused on immigration, 2012 McSally’s campaign focused heavily on the national debt, budget deficits, and the need for a balanced budget. Her campaign website ominously warned that a “rising mountain of debt is hanging over each and every one of us. If we don’t rein in spending now and reduce our deficit, we risk the retirements of so many senior citizens who have worked and saved their entire lives, and the future of every generation to come.”
While she rejected endorsing any specific proposal to address the budget deficit, she vowed “to go to Washington, D.C. and make sure we are cutting and that we are getting this debt under control.” At one April 2012 GOP candidate forum, she vowed to do this without raising taxes, saying, “although I’m very pragmatic and I’m not divisive, I am not gonna agree that the way to solve problem right now is to raise any tax. It’s just not the way to do it and that’s a red line and it’s just not going to happen.”
Instead, she proposed that August to solve the problem through growth and spending cuts. “Revenue is down because the economy is down. We need grow the economy, we need to get growth curve in right direction… when the GDP grows, then more revenue goes to the government.” Weeks later she was more circumspect, saying in a radio interview that we can figure out the right levels of revenue later, but that with the economic downturn, it was more important to “simplify taxes” than to raise them.
Weeks before the 2012 election, she explained her support for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget — a Balanced Budget Amendment. “I think it’s the only way to force Congress to actually stay within their means.”
Though her 2014 campaign again put the then-$17 trillion national debt front and center, her record in Congress has largely ignored it. She voted for the December 2015 omnibus budget deal, praising its funding for Raytheon in her district. Her 2016 re-election campaign site dropped balancing the budget from her issue priorities. She voted for the 2017 GOP tax cuts, providing massive tax breaks for corporations and wealthy people while increasing the deficit by at least $1 trillion (according to the GOP’s own estimates), predicting that the law would “put our economy in afterburner.”
And in March 2018, McSally voted for a $1.3 trillion budget bill which many of her GOP colleagues denounced for being another increase in the deficit. “No funding bill will be 100% perfect—but this spending bill includes our highest priorities and is backed by the President,” she said. “I am proud to support it today.”
The Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan government office lead by a GOP-handpicked economist, predicted that the U.S. budget deficit, would once again hit $1 trillion by 2020. And as a percentage of GDP, the debt had actually increased to more than 104 percent in Fiscal Year 2017, even before those new debt expansions passed.
Despite her complicity in making her “number one” priority worse, McSally voted in April for a Balanced Budget Amendment which would have made most of her legislative actions unconstitutional. “Our nation is careening towards a fiscal crisis and giving China—the number one country holding America’s debt—the keys to our financial security,” she warned. “The American people want this amendment to hold Congress accountable, and it’s time we finally do.”
Arizona voters will soon have the chance to hold McSally accountable, in an August GOP Senate primary and, should she prevail, in a November general election.
Videos edited by Victoria Fleischer.