17 Takeaways From America’s Biggest Conservative Conference
Fred Lucas / Rachel del Guidice / Kevin Mooney / Joshua Nelson / Courtney Joyner /
The Daily Signal was at all three days of the Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest annual national gathering of conservative activists, in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside Washington, and we’ve rounded up some of the highlights of our coverage.
- Vice President Mike Pence Speaks Out Against the ‘Culture of Death’
“Life is winning in America. For all the progress we’re making, tragically, at the very moment more Americans are embracing the right to life, leading members of the Democratic Party are embracing a radical agenda of abortion on demand,” Pence said Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Pence called President Donald Trump the “most pro-life president in history,” noting that Trump revoked U.S. tax dollars from funding abortions abroad and signed legislation allowing states to defund Planned Parenthood.
“Democrats are standing for late-term abortion, infanticide, and a culture of death,” Pence said. “I promise you, this president, this party, and this movement will always stand for the unborn and stand for the inalienable right to life.”
Pence also said the people of Venezuela are embracing freedom against the embattled socialist regime of dictator Nicolas Maduro.
“Freedom is more generous, more helpful, and more humane than any other social or economic model ever attempted because it is the only philosophy that respects the dignity and worth of every single life and sees every man, woman, and child as made in the image of God,” Pence said.
2. Lindsey Graham Praises Trump for Kavanaugh Nomination
“I want to thank the president for nominating Brett,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said at CPAC. “He did something not everyone does. He had somebody’s back when it really mattered. There were a bunch of people saying we need to move on, and the president said, ‘No, thank you.’ That’s truly called draining the swamp.”
Graham asked the CPAC audience to imagine what would have happened if Democrats had been able to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Qualified prospective nominees would be reluctant to step forward if the tactics employed against Kavanaugh had prevailed, he said.
3. Parkland Student: ‘Government Failed at All Levels’
Kyle Kashuv, now director of high school outreach for Turning Point USA, a nonprofit youth organization, was a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman opened fire Feb. 14, 2018, killing 14 students and three staff members. Seventeen others were wounded.
“What happened at Parkland wasn’t a gun issue,” Kashuv said during a session on gun control at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Kashuv, 17, pointed to statistics that show crime rates have declined as gun ownership has gone up.
He also expressed frustration that law enforcement officials received multiple reports about earlier behavior by the young man responsible for the shooting, but did nothing.
“Government failed at all levels,” Kashuv said. “Every single level of government knew this could happen. I’m targeting individuals who allowed this to happen. A gun is an inanimate object without someone pulling the trigger.”
4. Cabinet Secretaries Call for Senate to Confirm More Nominees
“One thing that has slowed us up a little bit is getting the nominations [through the Senate],” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Our friends on the Democratic side have not been quite as helpful as we’d like for them to be from the standpoint of getting nominations through.”
Perry said seats on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates the energy industry and approved projects, should be filled.
FERC still has a couple of openings [and it] could be really important to get those done,” Perry said. “Billions of dollars in projects are going to get approved at FERC … that will allow our natural resources to be moved all around the world.”
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao stressed that this isn’t the fault of the Senate majority leader—her husband, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“It’s not the Senate majority leader’s fault. I want to make that very clear. It’s not his fault,” Chao said. “It is the deliberate policy of the Senate minority leader [Chuck Schumer] to slow up the nominations of this administration by invoking cloture at every single step of the nominations process on the floor.”
5. Activist Assaulted at UC Berkeley Describes What Happened
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Signal podcast, Hayden Williams, who was attacked in February when recruiting students for a conservative group at University of California, Berkeley recounted what occurred:
As soon as I pulled out my phone, one of them said, ‘You guys are promoting violence,’ and then out of nowhere my phone gets smacked out of my hand. I go to pick it up off the ground and then the table gets flipped over and I turn around and this guy is just looking at me with flames in his eyes and he starts telling me, ‘Get out of my face, get that camera out of my face,’ and he starts pushing me and punching at me. It was just a really scary situation.
I’ve got most of it on film but he swatted my phone down about three times in total and the third time he got it I think the video stopped for whatever reason and he took my phone from me.
Luckily there was a third-person angle, some student who was walking by and realized what happened, basically, just took it upon himself to record.
So we have this angle, and if you actually look closely at the video, you can see my phone in this guy’s right hand when he punches me and knocks my hat off my head and then it looks like I’m tussling for his sweater or something, but really I’m just trying to retrieve my phone from him. Fortunately, he drops it and it lands between my legs and I go to pick it up and he kind of walks away, but he’s still yelling.
I look down at my phone and I realize that he was coming back and I didn’t know if it was still recording or not, my phone. He just gets in my face and starts yelling and I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, this is a really tense situation.’ And I look down at my phone again after he’s done yelling and right then is when he just throws the hardest punch I’ve ever taken in my life.
The really disturbing part though was the people around us that were egging him on. … Some guy was saying, ‘I’m on your side, you’re winning this fight.’ It was just really demented. I don’t care who you are, what you believe, if I see you in a distressed situation like that and you’re being attacked, I’m going to do everything I can to help you out. I wouldn’t even think about mocking you.
Zachary Greenberg was arrested and charged Friday for allegedly attacking Williams.
6. Van Jones Defends Working With Conservatives on Criminal Justice Reform
Van Jones, a former Obama administration official and leading commentator on the left, responded Friday to liberal critics who call him a “sellout” for agreeing to talk about prison reform at a major gathering of conservatives.
“If you’re on Twitter calling me a sellout for working with Trump on criminal justice reform, here is what I know about you: If you’re on Twitter, you’re not in a federal prison because they don’t have Twitter in federal prison,” Jones said.
“I don’t have to listen to you. I care about the people that are locked up. That’s what I care about,” Jones said, prompting applause from the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“There are common ground issues where we do agree and we won’t work together on those all too often, and that has got to stop in America,” Jones said.
7. Sen. Ted Cruz Laments Republicans Didn’t Fund Wall Earlier
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Friday that he urged the Trump administration and his fellow Senate Republicans to make a strong push for the border wall while the GOP still controlled both chambers of Congress.
“What I urged my colleagues, and I urged the president and I urged the vice president, and I urged the administration: Let’s take up a budget reconciliation and let’s build the wall,” Cruz said at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Let’s fund the wall. Let’s get it done.”
Cruz recalled telling colleagues this during an August presentation, which he recalled was 183 days before the midterm elections, when Republicans lost their House majority.
Cruz asserted that the November elections would have turned out differently had his colleagues listened:
I want you just to imagine, if they had taken that advice, if we had had that fight, and you had seen Elizabeth Warren screaming on the Senate floor to stop it, Bernie Sanders pulling what little hair he has out of his head, if in September or October, it [had] culminated in Republicans’ standing together [in] funding and building the wall, I’ll tell you, I don’t think we would have lost the House of Representatives.
8. Sen. James Lankford Says Too Few Americans Live Their Faith
Not living one’s faith can become a threat to religious liberty, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said while speaking on a panel Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“One of the greatest challenges we have to religious liberty in this modern day is people that actually claim a faith and don’t live a faith,” Lankford said. “Having a culture that is a vibrant culture of faith for people that not only have a faith, but they choose to live it, matters in our culture.”
“There are a whole group of people that say you can have a faith—just leave it over there, just don’t bring it out of your house,” Lankford continued. “Or that have a faith designation or a denomination designation, and it’s almost like a membership in a club for them.”
Lankford went on to describe a modern-day struggle when faith is merely a label, like identifying with a political party.
“[It’s] not very meaningful in their life,” Lankford said. “It’s just—I have this particular label, whether it be Republican, Democrat, independent, conservative, liberal—they also had this label.”
Lankford later said: “I tell people all the time, if you have a faith, live it. For people that only practice their faith on weekends, I try to remind them: Things that you only do on weekends are called a hobby. That’s not a faith.”
9. Football Player Arrested for Shoplifting Advocates Criminal Justice Reform
Growing up in a small town outside of Jackson, Mississippi, NFL linebacker Demario Davis had never seen a two-parent household that put faith first. His mother had him when she was 16 years old and his father served in the Army. As a child, he was surrounded by drugs, crimes, and gangs.
His football career landed him a scholarship to Arkansas State University, where as a freshman, Davis got caught shoplifting at Walmart. His bond was set at $10,000—a sum he could never afford. Without paying it, he’d go to jail.
Davis’ football coach bailed him out.
“Because I was an athlete, I was able to not go to jail,” Davis told the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday.
It was then Davis said he realized how many people went to prison simply because they couldn’t pay the bill for bail. Had his coach not stepped in, he would have been one of them.
And going to prison, Davis said, “is almost like a death sentence.”
“One-third of the people who die in jail die in the first week. Also, three quarters of the deaths that happen in our country in jail are pre-trial inmates,” Davis said. “So it’s almost like a death sentence to send somebody to jail for that extended period of time without them being convicted.”
Davis returned to college with a renewed commitment to turn his life around. He met a Christian pastor at just the right time, who welcomed him into a relationship with Christ.
Now both an NFL football player and a criminal justice reform advocate, he says there should be no such thing as cash bail for nonviolent offenders, an effort he says the country spends $13 billion on as a result of incarcerating people before their trial.
“I think the momentum is starting to move in the right direction,” he said, pointing to cities such as the District of Columbia, which has eliminated the cash bail system.
10. Top Trump Economic Adviser Says We Should Put Socialism ‘on Trial’
Larry Kudlow, director of the president’s National Economic Council, called Thursday for putting socialism “on trial”—and convicting it.
“I want you, and everybody in this room and your friends and your neighbors, I want you to put socialism on trial, that’s what I’m asking,” Kudlow said, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“I don’t want us to stand idly by,” he told the CPAC audience. “I don’t want to let this stuff fester. I want it challenged. I want it debated. I want it rebutted. I want to convict socialism.”
The top economic adviser to Trump noted the emergence of support for socialism among young voters and among Democrats in Congress.
He singled out the so-called Green New Deal, a proposal backed by congressional Democrats in the form of a resolution sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
The Democrats’ plan would move the country away from fossil fuels while implementing a raft of liberal initiatives.
Kudlow called the proposal “central planning on a grand scale.”
11. Georgia Senator Celebrates Economic Boom Under Trump
A Georgia lawmaker and former business executive says the economy is seeing historic gains under Trump.
“This is the greatest economic turnaround in U.S. history, 5 million new jobs … we’re growing the economy,” Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., told the Thursday morning crowd of conservatives gatred at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“The Obama administration … by the way, that was eight years [of] the lowest economic growth in U.S. history,” Perdue said.
He said that all Americans, not just some, are seeing the benefits of the Trump economy, especially since the president signed Republican lawmakers’ tax cuts into law on Dec. 22, 2017.
“We’ve got … the lowest unemployment in 50 years, [and the] lowest African-American, Asian, and Hispanic unemployment ever,” Perdue said. “So this is moving in the right direction.”
Perdue spoke during a discussion of the national debt moderated by Tim Chapman, executive director of Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of The Heritage Foundation.
“Taxes were not the government’s money in the first place,” Chapman said at one point. “It was the people’s money in the first place.”
12. Sen. Mike Lee Attacks Left’s Double Standard on Federalism
The government system known as federalism is what makes America great and guards against too much power in too few hands, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said in remarks Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“What is making America great again, and what I believe will continue to make America great again, is our continued move in that direction toward rebalancing power, toward sending power back to where it belongs, which is with the people,” Lee said in his speech at CPAC.
Lee described federalism, with its emphasis on powers reserved to the states, as the key to freedom.
“By being free, we can unlock our unlimited human potential,” the Utah Republican said. “In order to do that, we have to make sure that the government’s not on our back.”
He said “the accumulation of power in the hands of the few” is the main threat to freedom.
Lee criticized the Obama administration and the Democratic Party for not remaining consistent in their demand for upholding federalism and the Constitution’s separation of powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
“Where was their outrage over the violation of the Constitution and the separation of powers in the last decade?” Lee said, pointing to the national emergency that President Barack Obama declared in 2011 to take military action against Libya.
“Where was the concern about Congress’ Article 1 power over immigration and naturalization when in 2012 President Obama failed to get the legislation passed from Congress?” Lee added. “So he created a brand new immigration amnesty program out of thin air.”
The reference was to Obama’s unilateral order establishing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects hundreds of thousands of those brought here illegally as children from deportation.
Separation of powers is an issue that Lee says touches deep in America’s founding, and he discusses it in a new book, “The Lost Declaration: America’s Fight Against Tyranny From King George to the Deep State,” out April 23.
13. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Talks Failures of Socialism
Americans have to look no further than Venezuela to see the harms of socialism, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus told conservative activists gathered Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“In Venezuela, they’re wondering if [they] have enough rabbits to feed their people,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said.
“We’ve got to get to a point where we celebrate capitalism and understand that in America it doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from, that the American dream is available for everybody,” Meadows said. “I’ve lived the American dream and, quite frankly, it is available to each and every person.”
14. Rep. Jim Jordan Shares Why He Thinks Washington Doesn’t Like Trump
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told the CPAC crowd that politicians and bureaucrats don’t like Trump because he keeps his word.
“The bottom line is this town doesn’t like the president because this town is not used to people coming here and doing what they say,” Jordan said. “But the American people, you all appreciate that very fact. It’s something I appreciate … I [wish] every single American could have time to sit down and talk with the president.”
The Ohio lawmaker said Trump truly cares about American citizens and the future of the country.
“When you’re around the president, … you can sense the love he has for our troops, for our law enforcement, for the American [people],” Jordan said. “You can just feel it. And that’s what you want in a commander in chief.”
15. Sen. Joni Ernst Weighs in on North Korea
Does the slogan “America first” also mean “America alone?”
That was the question asked Friday during the Conservative Political Action Conference, following Trump’s second summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
“It’s a great opportunity on this panel to talk about a question that I have been asked a lot and that is: ‘America first’—does that mean America is alone?” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, asked the CPAC audience.
“Absolutely not,” she answered. “It just simply means that America is leading from a position of strength.”
Moderator Katie Pavlich, editor of conservative news organization Townhall, asked what the next step might be with North Korea. In response, Ernst stressed the importance of America’s allies:
[North Korea has] other capabilities as well as chemical agents and biological agents. So all across the board, we have to make sure that we are safeguarding our own people, and yes, will that require our allies? Of course, it will. China we typically don’t think of as an ally, but in this case, they are very close to North Korea and we can use them strong-arming the North Koreans a little bit.
The senator from Iowa also agreed that Trump made the right decision in walking away from the terms Kim presented, stressing this would be a “long haul.”
16. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers Shares How House Conservatives Are Trying to Protect Babies
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Signal podcast, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., discussed how House Republicans want to protect abortion survivors. Here’s an excerpt from their conversations:
Rachel del Guidice: I’d like to start off by getting your thoughts on the Senate’s recent failure to pass legislation to protect babies born alive after an abortion, and what the House is trying to do right now to pass a similar measure.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers: It’s just heartbreaking. I was disheartened by the vote, 44 senators that voted against legislation that would protect babies who were born alive, babies that had survived an abortion, were outside the womb, and yet they were not willing to bring in the insurer under law that they would bring in the doctor’s care.
In years past, this is passed with unanimous consent in the Senate. So it really exposed the extreme position that the left is taking right now, that Democrats are saying they reject legislation to protect babies born alive.
In the House, we are moving forward with a discharge petition. As you know, the Democrats have the majority in the House. One way that we can bring a bill to the floor is to demand a discharge petition.
You have to get 218 people to sign a discharge petition, and then you can bypass Speaker Nancy Pelosi and bring the bill directly to the floor. We’re working actively on that right now.
17. Gov. Scott Walker Shares an Insight From a Polish Immigrant
America’s greatness is built on freedom, former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Thursday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, and he had a story about an immigrant from Poland to illustrate that.
The Wisconsin Republican, who lost his bid for a third term as governor in November, regaled his audience with his account of an encounter with a supporter while eating with his family at a restaurant.
Walker said a woman approached to introduce herself and her daughter, whose birthday is coming up in March. A native of Poland, his supporter said she couldn’t understand the socialist faction in America.
“She talked a little bit about politics but, really gripping for today’s panel, she told me that she could not fathom … having come to America from an Eastern European country, she couldn’t fathom how anyone in this country would embrace socialism.”
As the woman spoke, Walker said, he saw a contrast between her home country and America:
She said she knew firsthand, as did her family, the failures of socialism. She said she knew about me from the past, from where she came from, [and] that she sees it just as we do today. … She came to America because she knew … freedom and prosperity did not come from the clumsy man in the government. They come from inspiring people to live their own lives and control their own destinies, and the dignity [of] work. That is what makes America great.