There is No Old Normal to Which Politics are Set to Return

Politics has changed, even as many widely used political playbooks were written when dinosaurs roamed the earth (the 1990s)

Pelosi’s contradictory response to Trump’s latest round of racist rhetoric targeted at freshmen members of Congress highlights her preferred approach to presidential “behavior” which urgently demands oversight. First, avow that President Trump is incomprehensibly malevolent; then, in the next breath, reject any effort to try to hold him responsible; and, finally, assure the world that Democrats are ready and willing to negotiate with Trump as if he were a normal president.

We know that we’ve been railing on this point for a long time now. The perpetual subtext in Washington politics is one note -- IMPEACHMENT. Trust us, we too are sick of this ‘will they, won’t they’ game. Worse, we are growing more and more concerned that they never will. And so much other passivity flows from that core surrender.

Congressional Oversight 

Apparently Mueller is testifying next week -- a hearing with no predicate over the past 2 months set right before an August recess that would kill off any momentum the ‘5 minute Dems/5 minutes Jim Jordan/repeat a few times/we’re done’ hearings could produce (which... isn’t much). Color us… disinterested. Wake us when the context for Mueller is an impeachment inquiry, not a box checking exercise in leadership cynicism seeking to undermine the ever expanding case for impeachment.

As we have been articulating for months, in a frame increasingly adapted by others, including the Pod Save America crew, House Democrats broadly ineffectual oversight is a product of #ImpeachmentPhobia. In turn, many internal Democratic Party fights -- Democrats legitimately in disarray -- are really about whether to take the threat of Trump seriously by opening an impeachment inquiry and unleashing all 20 standing committees of the House in pursuit of real oversight. Right now, there are maybe a literal handful of Committees which are serious -- Oversight itself, Financial Services, and to some extent Energy and Commerce and Homeland Security; and Judiciary likely would be but for Leadership’s meddling.

Example: The House Transportation Committee has provided zero indications that they are investigating the conflicts of interest represented by Elaine Chao running the Transportation Department while her family runs a multinational shipping company largely dependent on the Chinese government’s backing for business.

And recall that at no point did the House Education and Labor Committee call on then Labor Secretary Alex Acosta to explain himself with respect to the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.

The lack of Congressional oversight is vast, and ultimately the greatest share of the failure is Pelosi’s. Pelosi views the responsibilities of a House majority as a political liability. That view is both amoral and politically indefensible. Controlling the House is a serious matter demanding serious work. It is also an enormous political opportunity. 

We do appreciate early impeachment advocate Congressman Al Green continuing the good fight and announcing plans to call an impeachment vote before recess. Keep in mind that, from abusing the Appointments Clause of the Constitution by governing via Acting Officials to an unprecedented extent, to undermining guarantees of Due Process and Equal Protection via overt racism, to systematically breaking the Foreign Emoluments Clause…

Trump’s impeachable offenses are much vaster than Mueller’s ambit ever was. Impeachment inquiry hearings can connect all sorts of Trump Administration kitchen table-relevant corruption to Trump -- and an impeachment context would draw America’s eyes and ears in a way that House message bills that McConnell unfailingly blocks never will.

Spotlight:  This week is chock full of tech oversight, including two hearings in the House. This afternoon, the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law will hold a hearing with officials from Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Tomorrow, the ever-vigilant Maxine Waters is putting Facebook’s Libra in the spotlight. We are heartened to see this oversight at the intersection of corporate power and government regulation. Please follow our official twitter account ( @revolvingdoorDC ) to stay in touch with how Big Tech is faring in Congress this week -- and expect more content about Tech platforms and DC-influence-purchasing in the weeks and months to come!

Hall of Shame: Late last month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it had discovered a new flaw in the Boeing 737 Max, meaning that the plane will likely be grounded through November. Despite this new evidence about Boeing’s collapse as a capable company and the FAA’s inadequate approval process, the House Transportation committee remains essentially AWOL. As far as we can tell, Chairman Peter DeFazio has issued no subpoenas to aid the committee’s investigation, nor has he scheduled hearings with Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell or Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to answer questions about this latest round of developments.

Executive Branch

Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta’s resignation late last week is a welcome development, but we must, unfortunately, caution against prolonged celebration. It’s sadly clear that Acosta’s replacement represents an even greater threat to the rights and safety of workers than Acosta did. 

There is no doubt that Acosta’s actions in the Epstein case were entirely disqualifying. He was, however, also arguably among the least bad of this administration’s Cabinet secretaries (an admittedly shockingly low bar). In fact, his lack of urgency in repealing labor regulations earned him the ire of the administration’s allies among America’s worst corporations. He was eventually assigned a babysitter, in the form of Mick Mulvaney, to ensure he showed proper enthusiasm for stripping workers of their rights. 

We doubt that the administration will have the same problem with new Acting Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella, who spent a portion of the 1990s and early 2000s lobbying alongside the notorious criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff against an expansion of minimum wage laws to cover the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Products made in the CNMI carried a “Made in the USA” label while the foreign workers making those goods were subject to a maximum wage of $3.05 per hour, if they were paid at all. This is just one example of Pizzella’s clear anti-worker bias.

Yet, we cannot express any confidence that the House Education and Labor committee will work to counter this new threat to workers’ rights. Thus far, it has utterly failed to hold those under its jurisdiction to account. That includes Acosta, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, and the countless corrupt officials who are serving, or previously served, under each. Consider the committee’s failure to convene a hearing on the Education Department’s repeal of the gainful employment rule. That shameful action by DeVos and her crew of past and future for profit college lobbyists will lead to thousands more students being defrauded as they seek postsecondary degrees in the coming years. Oversight is long overdue.

By now we have learned not to expect anything more than cruelty and corruption from this administration. The House Democratic majority, however, promised to counter these assaults throughout the Midterm elections. Their continued failure to do so reflects both broken promises and missed opportunities. 

2020 (and Potentially 2021)

Discussions of the 2020 race for the next several days will likely circle around the second quarter FEC filing. We, like others, are digging through that information to highlight particularly worrisome funders (follow along with @revolvingdoorDC as we tweet about what we find) who might expect favorable executive branch appointments as the payoff for their largesse. 

Fundraising is not, however, the only thing we’re looking at when it comes to 2020, so in the calm before the storm we’d like to highlight a handful of interesting developments from the past few weeks. 

In a somewhat unconventional move, Bernie Sanders released a list of anti-endorsements last week. Just as a candidate’s fundraisers can speak volumes about their true colors (see our piece from June about what this says about Buttigieg), their conspicuous enemies are also revealing. Vehement opposition to Sanders among the ranks of the ultrawealthy suggests the country’s billionaires believe that a Sanders administration would shift the status quo by aggressively enforcing tax laws, raising wages, and prosecuting white collar crimes. 

Meanwhile, Warren came out with a new plan early this month aimed at increasing the wages and improving the working conditions of women of color through executive orders. While the awkward timing of its release (July 5th) meant it received less attention than some of her other proposals, this is not a plan that should be overlooked. In addition to promising executive orders that would impose new, more stringent standards on federal contractors, Warren promises to revitalize the underachieving Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by diversifying staffing and shifting enforcement priorities. It is heartening to have a presidential candidate acknowledge the impact of Independent Agencies. 

Independent Agencies

As horrifying as last month’s explosion at a Philadelphia oil refinery was, this piece emphasizes how lucky we are that the consequences were not more severe. That is because Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) is one of 48 oil refineries around the country that still uses the dangerous chemical hydrogen fluoride. Its release would have put hundreds of thousands of people in the refinery’s vicinity at risk of serious illness or even death. Why, then, is this chemical still in use?

The short answer is that refineries do not want to spend the money to switch to safer chemicals and no regulatory body has forced them to do so. 

The first step towards changing this will likely be a report from the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), which investigates industrial chemical accidents to identify root causes and makes recommendations to avoid similar accidents in the future. Thus, it seems pertinent to note that the CSB, like many other independent federal agencies, does not currently have a full slate of board members. At present its board has two vacancies (out of five total seats), one of which has sat empty for over four years. President Trump has only nominated a board member for one of these vacancies. 

While easy to overlook, these quiet attacks on the regulatory state are an important part of this administration’s corruption, corruption that, in many cases, has deadly consequences. That’s why we hope that presidential candidates begin laying out a process publicly for how they will staff obscure but consequential positions such as these -- what stakeholders will have input, what type of credentials will be valued, and what type of connections will disqualify potential Commissioners.

Want more? 

Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the past couple of weeks:

Pelosi's Relationship With Big Tech Shifts As Privacy And Antitrust Questions Mount, July 2nd

House Democrats Sue Treasury, IRS Head for Trump Tax Returns

Democrats Take Trump Tax Return Fight To Court

Politico Morning Tax

Do Democrats Really Want To See Trump’s Tax Returns?

How to tell if you’re suffering from impeachmentphobia

June Update on the State of Independent Federal Agencies

Ring of Fire Radio, July 11th

The Majority Report w/ Sam Seder, July 12th

Background Briefing with Ian Masters July 15th