Whining about the media is rather unlikely to resolve our nation’s ongoing constitutional crisis...
Nancy Pelosi has bemoaned the fact that impeachment is dominating “Page One” while House-passed legislation like the Equality Act or a bill to defend Obamacare are relegated to “Page 26.” Of course, since Mitch McConnell’s Senate will never vote on any bills passed in the House, regardless of how admirable … even if the concept of impeachment was banned from public discussion (an order one could imagine Giuliani advocating Trump issue), these bills would fail to generate significant press or social media attention.
The reality is that Trump is the center of the conversation, Trump is perpetually doing hateful things (e.g., HUD’s latest proposal is to allow homeless service providers to deny transgender people access on “religious grounds”), and Congress should be scrutinizing it all closely. Pelosi’s preference for symbolic legislation over investigating Trumpian assaults occurring in the here and now is bad governance and bad politics.
Despite last fall’s election results and numerous subsequent polls demonstrating broad public concern about this administration’s corruption, Democratic leadership continue to act as though corruption is a fringe issue. Since January they have stubbornly kept this administration’s abuses and so-called kitchen table issues siloed, even as they frequently intersect.
Consider, for instance, Betsy DeVos. As we wrote for BuzzFeed last week, DeVos’ lobbyist-strewn Department of Education is attacking the victims of the worst predatory lenders and for-profit college grifters on behalf of those very same corporations. Her Department is corrupt and the consequences are stark and tangible. And yet, as is the case with far too many of Pelosi’s Committee Chairs, Chairman Bobby Scott of the House Education & Labor Committee is not providing long overdue oversight of either DeVos or her corporate cronies.
DeVos is hardly alone. In the coming weeks we will be highlighting additional intersections between Trump Administration corruption and its real effects on ordinary Americans.
Pelosi successfully kept pressure for impeachment at bay until the onset of the May recess. Reportedly she hopes energy will dissipate in the ten days off. We, on the other hand, stand with Justin Amash (R-MI) and hope members of Congress are using the time to dispense with the notion that the House leadership has a brilliant secret plan to address the current constitutional crisis.
I mean, consider Trump’s taxes -- as we’ve noted repeatedly, the Ways & Means Committee has moved at the speed of indifferent molasses on what Pelosi had said would be “one of the first things we’d do,” “the easiest thing in the world,” and “nothing” just last fall - requesting Trump’s taxes. As of May 28th, Neal had still not initiated litigation to collect Trump’s hidden tax returns.
Americans will get sick of Democrats moving the goalposts to justify their passivity. Democrats appear weak, insincere, or both the longer Pelosi and others employ rhetoric terming Trump a “self-impeaching” danger to our democracy while choosing inaction premised explicitly on (dubious) political strategy rather than principles.
A particularly conspicuous example of how House Democrats are failing is that most Americans still believe Trump was a successful businessman. The press coverage demonstrating that he was the recipient of inherited wealth he very nearly squandered on several occasions who stayed wealthy primarily because of cheating and fraudulence had a shockingly short shelf life. Investigative reporting proved no match for decades of Trump’s aggressive PR and the enduring impact of NBC’s fictitious “reality show,” The Apprentice.
Impeachment hearings which demonstrate how much of Trump’s corrupt governance is due to personal economic duress after years of failure would create a center of gravity of truth sufficient to cut into these enduring and consequential myths about Trump the businessman.
Spotlight: We could always be highlighting Waters and her House Financial Services Committee. This week is no exception following a revealing and insightful hearing with Secretary Ben Carson, who while seeking to avoid the spotlight has been helping advance an abhorrent assault on tens of thousands of struggling American families. Thankfully, however, other committees are beginning to take Waters’ lead. This week we were excited to see the Chairman of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee strike right at the nexus between corporate power, economic inequality, and government corruption.
Hall of Shame: Other chairs are still failing to target the areas where this administration and corporate interests have converged. As we wrote about last week for Sludge, the generally progressive and accomplished Peter DeFazio has been conducting less vigorous oversight of Boeing and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao than Ted Cruz. Yes, that Ted Cruz! Chairman DeFazio, we expect better than this from you!
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has turned the Senate into “a conveyor belt for...nominees.” Yet, even with the GOP’s new rules on debate time and the accelerated pace of confirmations, McConnell continues to allow many independent agency nominations to languish. As should have been obvious from the beginning, McConnell is not so much concerned with the obstacles to staffing the regulatory apparatus as with anything standing in the way of his ability to pack the courts. While his Senate had confirmed the 100th Trump judicial nominee by May 1st, in the first 4 months of the year it had only managed six confirmations for independent agency roles.
Recent news on the Federal Trade Commission’s forthcoming settlement with Facebook over privacy violations helped to illustrate the importance of individual commissioners, even when they are in the minority. The FTC is reportedly delaying its Facebook decision as Chair Joseph Simons works to win at least one Democratic commissioner’s support for the deal in an effort to improve the commission’s bipartisan credibility. These opportunities to influence boards’ decisions in ways big and small, are among the reasons it is worth fighting for these minority seats.
A recent report from Public Citizen on revolving door patterns at the FTC serves as a welcome reminder, however, that focusing on political appointments at independent agencies will not be enough. Close ties between senior officials like the Directors of the Bureaus of Consumer Protection and of Competition threaten the FTC’s ability to work energetically in the public interest. Any meaningful plan from presidential candidates to revive the FTC and other independent agencies will need to take these weaknesses into account.
2020 (and Potentially 2021)
This begs the question, which candidates are most likely to appoint people who will have the will, energy, and knowledge to remake independent agencies like the FTC so that they serve the public interest? Fundraising patterns offer a first hint, and we should be skeptical of those who are moving closer to deep-pocketed individuals with a vested interest in the status quo. There is a reason, after all, that Wall Street executives reportedly feel that they “have to, more than ever, be involved;” if they do not begin cultivating loyalties now than those candidates will be more likely to propose policies or nominate appointees that threaten their wealth and power.
Of course, we cannot only be attentive to the possibility that Wall Street infiltrates the Treasury Department; we must remain vigilant in areas ranging from education and transportation to agriculture, and, perhaps most importantly, to technology. The aforementioned Public Citizen report found that the majority of FTC revolvers either came from or went to the technology sector. As 2020 candidates turn to Silicon Valley for money, we worry that the will to appoint the types of aggressive regulators we need will dissipate.
Two candidates, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have distinguished themselves as the only ones resisting the pull of big checks from wealthy financiers and their friends. This decision to eschew ties with industry titans of all stripes could mean a more responsive executive branch on numerous fronts, including technology policy.
Recent activity from both of these candidates also illustrates, however, how it might affect another area where personnel is key: foreign policy. We note with interest, for example, Sanders’ escalating critiques of unaccountable executive branch officials like John Bolton. A President Sanders would likely fill his executive branch with foreign policy staff loathed by the military industrial complex. Meanwhile, Warren recently released a plan to limit defense contractors’ influence over the Department of Defense by closing the revolving door, imposing new conflict of interest rules, and creating more stringent transparency standards for defense industry lobbying. Warren’s effort demonstrates how seamlessly the themes of her domestic policy rollout fit in with a vision for genuine national security.
Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to this month: