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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Sen. Lindsey Graham has been using Donald Trump to sell skeptical fellow Senate Republicans on bringing back earmarks.

Why it matters: Both parties swore off member-directed spending a decade ago, saying it too often led to corruption. Democrats are bringing it back this year, House Republicans agree — yet Senate Republicans remain the final holdouts.

  • Graham told colleagues last week "the top Republican in the country, meaning Trump, supports earmarks, and why shouldn't we?"
  • The South Carolinian invoked the former president and Republican leader-in-exile as the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee held a closed-door meeting to discuss the road ahead for government spending.
  • A source inside the room in the Capitol paraphrased Graham's argument.

In a telephone interview with Axios on Monday evening, Graham confirmed he'd made a forceful case to his colleagues.

  • "Democrats do it; if we don't do it, we're stupid," Graham said he argued.
  • He said Democrats will gain political advantage if they can direct money to competitive states while their counterparts don't. "We shouldn't just be out of the game."
  • Graham doesn't buy the two main arguments against earmarks: that corruption is inevitable or that they inherently lead to more government spending.
  • Transparency in the process can protect against corruption, he said. And halting earmarks didn't lead to reduced spending.

Advocates have argued earmarks incentivize bipartisan dealmaking, since members of both parties get invested in legislation when it contains spending especially directed toward their individual districts.

  • They also argue their past abuses can be prevented with public disclosure of earmarks, a ban on directing them to private companies and a limit on their size.

Between the lines: Graham made his comments as the Appropriations Committee members discussed earmarks and the fact that the three other corners of Capitol Hill had green-lighted the practice.

  • Graham acknowledged Senate Republicans' resistance but noted that House Republicans also had been vehement public critics — until backing member-directed spending in a secret vote.

What we're watching: Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top-ranking Republican on Appropriations, told Axios the reversal by House Republicans "helps create the dynamic" to win approval for earmarks in the Senate.

  • He and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee chairman, "are talking about it; we're friends," adding, "I think we have a constitutional right ... to control the money, the Congress does."

The big picture: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly cast doubt about whether his conference will bring back earmarks.

  • On Fox News' "Special Report" last month, host Bret Baier noted that under President George W. Bush, McConnell was a proponent of earmarks — and asked whether it made sense to "restore the spending authority that essentially went to the executive branch."
  • McConnell replied, "I represent the entire conference," and that the "overwhelming majority ... is not in favor of going back to earmarks."

What's next: A Senate leadership source said the earmarks question won't be resolved until next month at the earliest.

  • That will "almost certainly" be at a special GOP conference meeting — and by secret ballot, should a vote be requested.

Go deeper

20 mins ago - Technology

Facebook changes corporate name to Meta

Screen shot of CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the company's "Connect" virtual event

CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday said the social media giant is renaming its company Meta.

Why it matters: The effort is meant to shift its image from a social media platform to a “metaverse” company that focuses on building virtual work and social communities.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
57 mins ago - Economy & Business

Filings show Sweetgreen isn't profitable, despite claims

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Restaurant chain Sweetgreen on Monday filed to go public, and revealed that it lost money in each year since 2014.

Why it matters: The company lied when it repeatedly told reporters it was profitable.

U.S. border cities again see low violent crime rates

Expand chart
Data: FBI, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Reported violent crime in the United States rose in 2020 for the first time in four years, but violent crime rates in 11 of the largest communities along the U.S.-Mexico border stayed below the national average, an Axios analysis found. 

Why it matters: Year after year, data showing low violent crime rates in majority-Mexican American and Mexican immigrant border communities dispels myths of the U.S.-Mexico border as a region filled with crime and chaos.

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