DC Crisis Only a Little Worse than in King’s Landing

Newsletter 10: Do Democrats Have a Plan to Address Trump Razing the Constitution?

Belated urgency, just like belated Game of Thrones related ledes, is not as effective as timely urgency. One could wish that wasn’t the case, but the slow ramp up to Congressional proportionality to Trump’s unprecedented obstruction is dangerous to America’s constitutional system. The Washington Post very usefully and authoritatively sketched the scope of Trump’s obstruction this weekend -- but before you read the full piece, consider this quote alone: We’re experiencing “a complete breakdown and complete obstruction of Congress’s role. If the court signs off on this stuff, then we’ll have an imperial presidency. We’ll have a presidency that will be largely unchecked.”

And then realize that was no center-left academic speaking -- but the “House counsel for the last GOP majority,” Kerry W. Kircher.

Democrats are only now issuing subpoenas and stage whispering about being on a path to impeachment, even as the president’s highly impeachable behavior has been unchanging and the president remains deeply unpopular. As Jamelle Bouie argues in a brilliant piece, “Democrats have the upper hand, but they aren’t acting like it.”

Nonetheless, the extent to which the details of Trump’s criminality blur together in the minds of citizens is hard to exaggerate -- just as the devastating nature of the redacted Mueller Report is only beginning to sink in with even the most plugged in DC opinion leaders. And so, while House Democrats with few exceptions (Maxine Waters coming to mind immediately) have squandered their majority since the shutdown, there is still time to follow Revolving Door Project’s suggestions and teach the American people about how Trump’s abuses of power impact the country.

Housekeeping: Follow us @revolvingdoorDC if you have not already.

Congressional Oversight

Lawmakers are slowly shedding some of their complacency.

  • Neal finally issued a subpoena for Trump’s tax returns

  • House Judiciary committee held Barr in contempt

  • Elijah Cummings threatened to withhold Interior department officials’ salaries if they block efforts to interview departmental employees

Some senior Democrats are inching closer to impeachment in public -- and more behind the scenes:

That is not the ringing endorsement that we need, but it is a shift we must acknowledge. If Democrats are to win over public opinion, however, they will need to not only take a stronger stance, but also do so with the confidence their convictions ought to afford them. As Bouie notes, “The next election will be about Trump. His base, as well as most Republican voters, will almost certainly be with him. What Democrats need is the confidence of their position.”

Courage of conviction means a thoroughgoing rejection of the baseless but pervasive “dangers of overreach” meme. Trump’s abuses of power bear no meaningful relationship to even the worst interpretations of the accusations against Bill Clinton--and are not less serious than the multi-pronged swirl of scandal around Nixon.

Hall of Shame: Pelosi has continued to escalate her language but not her actions. To extend Bouie’s metaphor (seriously, we hope we have convinced you to read his piece), does the Speaker who so expertly manages Democratic forces to win shutdowns want her legacy to include becoming the Gen. George B. McClellan of this current constitutional crisis?

And -- it is good that impeaching Barr is “not off the table,” but is it on the table? In food prep? Because so far as we can tell, his impeachment is potentially overdone at this point.

Spotlight: It is great that Ro Khanna is fighting for an expanded congressional budget -- as well as for paying interns. Honestly, even the substantial 10% increase Khanna is suggesting could be doubled or tripled without undoing the erosion in Congress’ functional capabilities Newt Gingrich and others have wrought over the past generation. For more on the scale of what ought to be done, read this tremendous piece by Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr.

Executive Branch:

Some of Trump’s corruption goes beyond the obvious “save his own hide” obstruction of Mueller-related topics. Instead, it is blatant, like deciding to express his opposition to a bill because a lobbyist crony with an economic interest in seeing it killed asked him.

Some of it is advancing plainly incompetent but ideologically loyal nominees for positions with a long tenure that would significantly outlast his presidency. And so while Stephen Moore’s nomination (finally) being killed was a good bipartisan reminder that deference to Trump on nominations is unwarranted, we note that Betsy DeVos and her team of corporate cronies are still undermining the Department of Education without any Republican outcry or adequate congressional oversight from either party. And that Mnuchin, Otting, Ross, Perdue, and so many others are no more principled or qualified for their jobs than Moore was for the Federal Reserve.

Speaking of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, some corrupt Trump appointees are corrupt in a more subtle fashion than, say, DeVos. These under-the-radar attacks, however, have the potential to do by far the most lasting damage. Consider how Perdue is opening up the latest of the Trump Administration’s multi-front attack on civil service expertise in an under-scrutinized corner of government: the Agriculture Department.

Fortunately, Economic Research Service (ERS) employees are fighting back, voting overwhelmingly to unionize on Thursday (a companion vote at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) vote is coming later this month).

Very much related ideologically, the administration has also floated changing how the federal government measures poverty, a shift that could eliminate benefits for millions.

Personnel is policy, executive branch decisions are consequential, and congressional oversight is overdue -- we might be a broken record, but we’re not wrong.

2020 (and Potentially 2021)

Speaking of executive branch decisions worth monitoring… it is good to see 2020 candidates thinking and talking about the power of the executive. We take note that Beto O’Rourke has proposed executive action on climate policy while Kamala Harris has done so on gun control.

As always on policy, Warren has gone one step further -- not only integrating executive branch actions in her policies but also making a specific “personnel is policy” commitment -- that her Secretary of Education will be a “former public school teacher.”

Meanwhile, although Joe Biden has not articulated a personnel plan as such, he is giving us ample cause for concern about the type of people who would populate his executive branch absent strong pushback.

Consider Biden’s climate advisor, his Trump NAFTA advocate pollster, and his campaign’s warm embrace of Comcast amidst the urgent need for net neutrality. And as we’ve noted before, the apparent alliance between Biden and BlackRock.

It will be fascinating to see whether voters will receive a full vetting of the seeming corporate influence on Biden’s team in waiting before they beginning casting ballots next January.

Independent Agencies

This week, the Senate restored a quorum to two of the four agencies that had been lacking one: the Export-Import Bank and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Senate confirmed three nominees (two Republicans and one Democrat) to the Export-Import Bank’s board. That leaves two vacancies left to fill, for which there are pending nominations. This is the first time the Bank has had a quorum since 2015.

The Senate also confirmed one nominee, Janet Dhillon, to the EEOC. It now has three commissioners (two Republicans and one Democrat). There are no pending nominations for the remaining two vacancies. While we welcome the news that the EEOC has had its quorum restored, we cannot claim to rejoice about the choice of Dhillon for the commission’s chairmanship. A corporate lawyer with a distinctly anti-worker record, Dhillon’s original nomination in 2017 prompted statements of opposition from both the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Human Rights.

We contributed research to Dean Baker’s piece on the disturbing labor market problems being experienced by black men. We wish the EEOC were not only moving from a lack of leadership to bad leadership, but also adequately staffed to take on workplace racism.

Speaking of leadership vacuums -- Trump still has not officially nominated Graham Steele for the vacancy on the FDIC board, another important independent agency. That is of particular concern given the fact that the FDIC is in the process of reviewing the largest bank merger to occur since the financial crisis, that between BB&T and SunTrust. We raised that concern, among others relating to the proposed merger, in a public comment to the FDIC earlier this month. We also submitted a letter to Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard asking that she oppose the deal at least until the vacancy on the FDIC’s board has been filled.

Additionally, we sent a letter to members of the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs asking that they perform oversight of the merger. For that reason we were delighted to learn that Chairwoman Waters plans to hold a hearing on the merger in the coming weeks. We hope that lawmakers on her committee will draw attention to the President’s ongoing refusal to restore full membership to the board, in addition to highlighting the numerous other substantive concerns relating to this deal.  

Want more?

Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to this month:

America’s Next Too Big to Fail Bank

Joe Biden Actually Is a Dealmaker. And That Could Be a Problem in 2020

Maxine Waters Has a Plan to Get What She Wants From Wall Street

Groups Call for Oversight of BB&T-SunTrust Merger

April Update on the State of Independent Federal Agencies

Group Comment Filed with FDIC Opposing BB&T-SunTrust Merger

Groups Appeal to Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard on BB&T-SunTrust Merger

Politico Morning Tax 5/13/19

Mnuchin Refusal to Hand Over Trump Tax Returns Called 'Blatant Affront to Rule of Law'

The US Labor Market Is Deteriorating for Black Men

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Revolving Door Project is a project of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.