At RNC, Party Endorses Trump’s Every Whim

Newsletter 49: And in Postal Service hearings, Democrats underline why that should scare you

This week’s Republican National Convention, just halfway over, has already featured more than its fair share of implausible, ridiculous, and downright horrifying claims. And RAMPANT criminality neither Pelosi nor much of the media are well-equipped to address. By far the most far-fetched of these was the suggestion that President Trump’s handling of the pandemic has been laudable. But it’s not just Trump’s surrogates who are boosting this wholly unconvincing assertion; the official Republican party is throwing its full support behind “Trump’s impulses” as well, by neglecting to enact a platform. 

So far, those impulses have been towards criminal mismanagement and, sometimes, just plain contempt. Endorsing such a “platform,” just as its deadliest effects are becoming apparent, frankly seems like a political gift to their opponents. Will Democrats capitalize?

Congressional Oversight

Whereas just a few weeks ago it appeared that the answer was a resounding “no,” now there seems to be reason for optimism. The threat to the US Postal Service pushed House Democrats to a fever pitch that hopefully has yet to cool.

After putting up with seemingly endless delays to its oversight efforts over the past year, lawmakers appear to be done waiting. For some, even waiting a week before hearing Postmaster General DeJoy’s testimony was too long to pause the effort to understand the unfolding catastrophe at USPS. 

Rather than simply biding its time, the Congressional Progressive Caucus sought out other sources to advance the investigation. On Thursday, they heard from David Williams, a former USPS Inspector General and board member, who resigned his seat in protest this April. In what turned out to be explosive testimony, Williams detailed a highly unusual process that led to DeJoy’s hiring and troubling, ongoing interference from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Cumulatively, these intrusions led Williams to conclude that USPS’ “independent role had been marginalized" and "representations of an independent postal service for the nation were no longer truthful.”

By getting this information out ahead of the Republican-led Senate hearing scheduled for Friday, the CPC somewhat undercut Senator Ron Johnson’s effort to allow DeJoy to set the narrative before testifying to a “‘hostile’ Democratic-led House panel.” Of course, that timing would have been even more effective had Senator Kamala Harris - a famously sharp cross-examiner - chosen to appear for the remote hearing rather than merely submitting questions in writing and leaving the direct questioning to her more somnolent colleagues. 

The information revealed during that briefing was also undoubtedly a boon to the House Oversight committee’s hearing with Postmaster General DeJoy Monday. If DeJoy had hoped that minor concessions might have earned him some goodwill, he was surely quickly disappointed. Lawmakers did not hold back, skewering DeJoy for his lack of expertise and his callous disregard for the potentially fatal consequences of his reorganization effort. Many also took the opportunity to underline the committee’s willingness to issue a subpoena should DeJoy fail to cooperate with requests for information. Music to our ears!

(Of course, 5 minutes per member remains a ridiculous format. A significant allocation of time to a professional staffer or one of the more facile questioners, like AOC or Porter, to interrogate DeJoy would have been better than the current, antiquated format designed to maximize the number of members generating local television news clips, not understanding gleaned.)

It’s important, however, that the committee not just follow through on the threat of subpoenas but follow up on other promising lines of inquiry. There is, for example, surely more that could be learned from former USPS board member David Williams in an official hearing. Members should also be working to learn more about the Treasury Department’s interference from other sources. How involved was Mnuchin in selecting DeJoy? And how involved was Trump in pushing Mnuchin? These are the sorts of questions the Oversight committee must answer; DeJoy’s testimony is no more than a start.

2020 (and potentially 2021):

With the nomination officially in hand, the Biden-Harris campaign is now reportedly turning more seriously to the question of who will fill their hypothetical administration. There are still, however, very few clear signs about what they’re thinking. For the time being, contradictory assessments and predictions abound, likely because very few concrete decisions have been made. 

Nonetheless, it is clear that the campaign has taken note of the progressive left’s demands on personnel and is making an effort to appease that wing. Senator Sherrod Brown, for example, is reportedly advising Biden on “‘where he needs to look and who he needs to look at’ as he begins to form a potential administration.” 

But that positive signal last week was also accompanied by a much more troubling one. In an interview Wednesday, Ted Kaufman offered the first hints of a Biden administration’s potential turn to austerity. While the campaign later walked back the statement slightly, it’s follow-up still indicated a fundamental discomfort with deficit spending that could severely hamper efforts like the Green New Deal or those to offset mass layoffs by state and local government. The comments were all the more jarring for having come from Kaufman, a man many progressives see as a potential ally in the Biden transition and administration. 

As millions rally to save the Postal Service from Trump, it’s worth noting that some high-ranking deficit hawks in the Obama administration thought privatizing the beloved institution wasn’t such a bad idea. Here, for example, is former Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Peter Orszag arguing for just that in 2012. (It shouldn’t shock you that Orszag is now an investment banker; can you imagine the fees generated in taking the USPS private? We’re confident that Orszag can!)

Independent Agencies

In his testimony to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, former USPS board member David Williams revealed how Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had breached the Postal Service’s independence. While this latest attack is extreme, the animating impulse, to extend executive control over purportedly independent agencies, is troublingly familiar. By strategically withholding or stalling nominations, President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell have been quietly tightening their grip over critical agencies for years now. 

One such example is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which took a turn in the spotlight this week after issuing some startling anti-labor decisions. In its first official release of guidance since the start of the pandemic, the NLRB indicated that it did not consider workers’ speaking up about safety conditions related to COVID-19 to qualify as protected speech. 

The normally five member board currently has 4 sitting officials (3 Republicans and 1 Democrat). That should be 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats but Trump has neglected to nominate someone to fill the open seat. 

While it is unlikely that the additional Democrat would have impacted the board’s decision in this case, the vacancy may have severe consequences leading into the next administration. Rather than just needing to confirm one Democrat to retake the board’s majority, a President Biden would now need to get 2 Democratic nominees through the Senate. Depending on the results in November, that may be difficult. As the pandemic continues to rage, the ongoing damage from Trump and Mitch McConnell’s “stealth nuclear option” may well be life or death for many workers. 

Want more?Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last week:

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