Category: Congress

One-Party Rule

More authoritarian dictator shenanigans. If you’re from a state or district which is represented by Democrats in congress, know that as of now, executive branch agencies have been asked to behave as though your representatives are not members of the U.S. government.

In an expected bit of doublespeak nonsense, “A White House spokeswoman said the policy of the administration is “to accommodate the requests of chairmen, regardless of their political party.” There are no Democratic chairmen, as Congress is controlled by Republicans.”

White House orders agencies to ignore Democrats’ oversight requests” (Burgess Everett and Josh Dawsey, Politico)

Betsy DeVos and the Legacy of Separate but Equal

This congressional hearing [link is to C-Span video] happened yesterday (May 24). I want you to watch Betsy DeVos saying that in no case—none at all—would she deny a school federal funds for discriminating against black students, gay students, special needs students. Not even in the case of a specific (real) private school which expels students for the crime of having a queer or gender noncomforming relative. (Contamination!) Betsy DeVos still wants to give that school taxpayer money via vouchers.

DeVos’s slogan that we need to ditch a “one-size-fits-all” education is just a gloss on “separate but equal.” Which was itself code for “get your gross kids away from mine.” And it is hugely, hugely disrespectful to the millions (millions) of teachers and administrators who spend every day forging personal, individual connections with their students—listening to their fears, cheering on their accomplishments, and tailoring every lesson to their individual needs.

I want you to also watch Katherine Clark, the blue-suited woman asking the questions, who is one of my favorite people in the House of Representatives. (She happens to be my Rep. She’s the stuff.) You can tell she’s an attorney. Specifically, she used to be Massachusetts’ general counsel for the state Office of Child Care Services. She also chaired a local school board. She is not somebody who smiles at vague, time-wasting evasions about whether kids are being protected. She came loaded for bear. (No, I have not forgotten Wapiti.)


Nic says: Things like this are why I really hate the “politicians are all the same, liars, cheats blah blah” narrative. I am mostly in awe of people like this who are well informed, spectacularly clever and using their intelligence and strength to fight for the people they are there to represent. And I don’t think they are a minority. Just like I think most backbench MPs in Westminster are there solidly working for their constituents.

I think there’s some kind of success bias where a proportion of the bad ‘uns rise to the top maybe because they’re not so concerned with their actual responsibilities. But then again maybe not and it’s rising to the top that warps your moral compass, just as coming into huge wealth can completely change how you see people who are struggling. In any case thanks for so often sharing these great examples. And honestly if I was a hard working MP or Representative and constantly having to listen to people say what scum politicians were, I might think “well fuck em” and start doing what I could for myself. The fact that I might act that way is why I’m not a selfless enough person to become one in the first place though.

When the Whigs Booted President Tyler Out of the Party

UT Austin History professor H.W. Brands points out that if Republicans don’t want to go through the mess of impeaching Trump, but do want to distance themselves, they could kick him out of the Republican party.

This will never, never happen.

However, it has happened before – when the Whigs booted “His Accidency,” President Tyler. Washed their hands of him, said “not our fault,” and left him a president without a party. His whole cabinet resigned (except American folk hero Daniel Webster, who was off negotiating a treaty with Britain. This was before the 25th Amendment.) Brands’ summary of that event (in The Hill) is delightful.

Collins-Cassidy Healthcare Bill

Republican senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Bill Cassidy (Louisiana) have been working on an alternate health care bill which does not cut $800 million from Medicaid, and does not prioritize tax cuts over coverage. Their stated goal is to keep Trump’s campaign promises of lower premiums, better care, and coverage for everyone, which is what the American people voted for. As they craft their bill, Collins and Cassidy are holding meetings with Democrats instead of just grousing about Democrats.

I don’t know that it will be a better bill than Obamacare. (You know I want to scrap employer-based healthcare entirely.) However, it’s credible. It’s the kind of approach you take if you are genuinely trying to fix something and help American citizens.

It’s not surprising that Collins and Cassidy would know a thing or two about this subject: Collins used to be the insurance commissioner of Maine, and Cassidy is a physician who founded several nonprofits to get free or low-cost care to low-income Baton Rouge families.

The fact that neither of these people were asked to be part of the main Senate working group on healthcare is shameful. They should be the leaders. It tells me that other bill isn’t about healthcare. Remember this later on, when Mitch McConnell et al are trying to get everyone to kiss the ring. They’ll say it’s a collection of the smartest Republican ideas. Isn’t.


Maria says: Your last paragraph hit the nail on the head. The GOP can’t accomplish the budget they want without gouging the ACA. So you’re right. The current bill isn’t about health care. So it remains to be seen if Collins and Cassidy will even get a GOP an executive audience for their bill. But at least it will be on the record.

Congressional Reaction to Comey Firing

I’ve always looked at the U.S. presidency the same way I look at Santa Claus, where President Santa makes us feel excited about being good or worried about being bad, but adults know the presents and food are actually coming from your mom (Congress). Look at the Republican healthcare bill; that was Paul Ryan. Obamacare? That was Nancy Pelosi.

So when I obsessively follow the Russia investigation, it’s because I care how Congress conducts investigations of the Trump administration.

It’s a test. Of Congress.

The Trump administration has presented us with a bunch of potential Constitutional crises: foreign espionage risks; financial conflicts of interest; authoritarian moves like firing anybody who disagrees with (or becomes more famous than) Trump, praising brutal dictators, criminally charging a woman who laughed at Jeff Sessions, and having a reporter arrested for asking Tom Price and Kellyanne Conway uncomfortable questions in a hallway.

These remain potential Constitutional crises because Congress can act to counter them. They’re the sorts of things that were always risks of a Presidential system (and are the reason so many Presidential systems turn into military dictatorships after 10-15 years). Presidents try to expand their imperial power because they can act quickly, have a lot of resources, and are fairly unconstrained. But Congress can rein it in. (You could think of the President as the horse pulling the American cart, and Congress as the person in the driver’s seat.)

Most routes to stopping Trumpian excess lead through Congress, and this matters not just for stopping Trump but for telling us that Congress works – which we need it to do for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with Trump. Like that healthcare thing I mentioned.

The Senate is particularly important, and Senate Republicans (the majority party, Trump’s party) most of all. In response to the Comey firing, they are the ones who could appoint a special prosecutor, form a select committee, or ramp up funding to Congressional investigations already in progress.

(Although I doubt our motivations are the same, I agree with Mitch McConnell that I’d rather this stay with Congress than go to a special prosecutor. My reasons are the opposite of tactical; they’re entwined with my philosophy of government. I don’t particularly trust a crusading outsider beholden to no one; I vastly prefer career bureaucrats accountable to a lot of people. See also: I voted for Hillary instead of Trump.)

I don’t see how we’re more likely to get a brilliant special prosecutor than a brilliant new FBI director – in both cases pretty unlikely. And select committees aren’t magical. They’re not able to do anything other committees don’t do. Past select committees which have been great have been great because of the hard work of the people on them, not the fact of their being called select committees.

In other words, what I’m watching is…people. Republican Senators. Are they going to take the reins and keep America on firm ground instead of wherever this mule is determined to take us?

The Hill has collected the statements of all Republican Senators who have publically reacted to the Comey firing. Nuance is important, so read the statements. The Hill categorizes them as:

13 GOP senators critical/concerned
23 supportive of Trump
11 Neither

FiveThirtyEight sorts the same statements as:

15 GOP senators critical/concerned
12 defend Comey firing
21 ambiguous

(4 GOP senators still haven’t commented.)


On the subject of select committees not being more magical than other committees: the Senate intelligence committee has issued subpoenas for Flynn’s information. “This is the first time the Intelligence Committee has used its subpoena power since the joint inquiry into the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and it’s the first time it has subpoenaed documents since the 1970s, a Senate historian told NBC News.” When Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) said Comey’s firing wasn’t going to impede his own investigation, he wasn’t kidding.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has also requested Trump team financial documents from the Treasury department – ones related to a money laundering investigation. Which is neat because it highlights that the Treasury department has its own crimefighting team, called FinCEN (financial crimes enforcement network) and, well, my Dad was an internal auditor until he retired, and one of my best friends is an internal auditor, and I love the kind of people who investigate financial crimes. Not just in the abstract. I love those people.