Last month, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks founded the Anti-Woke Caucus, calling for “a recorded vote on an amendment to defund wokeness” on any bill that spends money on “leftist activities.” Days later, he launched a campaign for U.S. Senate, lining up conservative endorsements for a potential race against former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who later opted not to run. Banks, for now, has the Senate race to himself, giving him more time to build the caucus and fight to strip out “diversity, equity, and inclusion” from federal agencies.
“Why does every federal government agency have a taxpayer funded chief diversity officer?” Banks said in an interview with Semafor. “This does feel like a game of Whack a Mole, but the more members of Congress I have to whack at the moles, the more effective we're going to be in the committees.”
The conversation been edited for length and clarity.
David Weigel: When did you decide that “wokeness” was a problem for America?
Jim Banks: There was a slow burn of wokeness leading up to Jan. 20, 2021, and then it was everywhere. Joe Biden becomes president and signs an executive order for all government agencies to create an equity plan. The first directive from [Defense Sec.] Lloyd Austin is to tackle extremism in the military. I’m on the Armed Services Committee, and I start hearing stories from people in uniform about what they were dealing with — they were just overwhelmed with getting woke training, versus military training.
It was demoralizing to people, especially if they’d been in uniform for a long time, to recognize that they had become political pawns. College campuses have always been hotbeds of woke-ism, and that gets ramped up after Biden takes over, too.
David Weigel: Donald Trump had criticized it in 2020 and called for “patriotic education” — so this was happening, but it wasn’t really front of mind then?
Jim Banks: It was much more in our face. It was in every bill, whether it was the CHIPS bill creating a chief diversity officer at the National Science Foundation, or the infrastructure bill being filled with woke initiatives and DEI initiatives. A lot of Republicans were willing to go along with legislation on important issues, and maybe overlook that. But there's a growing number of us on the right who are recognizing that this is a cancer in the federal government and American culture. We need to identify it and uproot it.
David Weigel: Last week, Donald Trump proposed defining “male” and “female” in biological terms if he won the presidency, and removing gender identity from government language. Do you support that?
Jim Banks: I believe that, after the 2024 election, we’ll have a Republican president and majorities in the House and the Senate, and President Trump's political message over the last 10 days has been spot on. He was strong on these issues as president. As a candidate, he shows that he understands his issues better than anybody else. He’s really providing a roadmap for the Anti-Woke Caucus, showing Republicans where we should go from here.
David Weigel: How did this play out last year? Ron DeSantis won, but in Michigan, Republicans ran on getting back to traditional gender roles, and they lost.
Jim Banks: A lot of dynamics were playing out in Michigan. In my state, my governor vetoed a bill that prevented boys from playing girls sports, his veto was overridden by the state legislature, and we made gains. I wish my governor had half the backbone on these issues that Gov. DeSantis does, because you lean in against the political opposition, and take the hits, you come out of it stronger than ever.
David Weigel: What federal limits would you want to place on abortion? What should be the law whether you’re in California or Indiana?
Jim Banks: I hope that we, at the federal level, pass laws like the heartbeat bill or the pain capable bill. Right now, I don't have a lot of hope that the born alive bill will go anywhere in the Senate or be signed with President Biden, but it's a good place to start — that, or banning abortions based on sex selection or abnormalities.
David Weigel: What role do you see for the federal government in encouraging family formation? Democrats have answers, like the child tax credit; there are libertarians who want to just roll the clock back to 1912, and see what happens.
Jim Banks: When we made corporate tax cuts permanent, but sunset the tax cuts for families, that was a backwards approach that I think was misguided for the Republican Party. I think it was the wrong message. I voted for it, and it was good for the economy, especially when we ended up facing a pandemic. But if we couldn't do both, we should have prioritized families.
David Weigel: What do you think of Rick Scott’s idea of sunsetting federal spending, getting to some kind of zero-based budgeting by having to vote on every program every five years?
Jim Banks: It seems like a lazy approach to talk about sunsets or across-the-board cuts. I think you can fix America's fiscal health without affecting Social Security or Medicare benefits for anyone who relies on it today or tomorrow, while making reforms for future generations. That's the right approach for America.