Friday, November 23, 2018

The Coming War in Washington

There was a lot of panic before this recent midterm election. Usually midterm elections are snoozers. But many of us were genuinely worried that our democracy would be in danger if the Democrats were unable to at least take over one lever of power in Washington.

There were many, including me, who openly wondered if our democracy was slipping away, perhaps toward fascism. Was this all little more than hyperbole? I think not! One party rule in Washington has happened before. But at the top is a president who clearly has exhibited many totalitarian tendencies e.g, war on the media and their right to criticize and ask questions, war on our electoral system through spreading unfounded rumors of election fraud, and war on the Justice Department, especially the Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigation.

I can say more but I can’t resist making my point in the form of satire.  But as we know, satire is supposed to be about comic exaggeration. The problem is that much of this exaggeration isn't that far from the literal truth of what is happening which is scary!

We have had at least one other president who has gone rogue, namely Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. But congressional Republicans did their sworn duty to provide an oversight check and balance on the presidency - even one from their own party. When the evidence became overwhelming, a small contingent of Republican Senators came to the White House to tell Nixon that time was up and he had to resign - which he did.

Yes, there were some Republicans in Congress who openly criticized Trump. But just about every one of them declined to run for re-election. The message was clear - the GOP is now Trump’s party and dissenters will not be tolerated. Can you say totalitarianism? I knew you could!

With the Democrats gaining control of least one part of Congress, the Republicans in January will no longer be the single party in power. Democrats will now be able to pass legislation to send to the Senate (which is still controlled by the Republicans). Although there are few areas the parties agree on, there are some issues which are said to have bipartisan support.

It has been said that if a bill lightening up sentencing guidelines were to go to the Senate floor, it would pass easily and be signed by the president - if or when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allows it to go for a floor vote.

According to the various polls, the number one issue with most voters was healthcare. Despite Republican efforts to strip the no preexisting conditions requirement out of Obamacare, when they decided that this was a losing strategy in the recent election, they suddenly changed their tune saying that they were now in favor of preserving insurability for preexisting conditions. While this was surely a bald-faced lie, the Democrats in the House can now ask for Republican support for preserving this no preexisting condition part of Obamacare putting their latest positions to the test.
There are so many issues for which a Democratic House can bring up and pass along to the Senate for a vote. While the Senate is likely to give the middle finger to the House for most of what they pass, at least the Senate will be on record as obstructing worthwhile legislation. And maybe in 2 years with a possible Democratic president and Senate, you never know.

After healthcare reform, perhaps the important area that needs to be addressed is voting reform. Voting is usually run by the individual states but Congress can help things along with federal funding for sorely needed changes. With the Supreme Court invalidating a key part of the Voting Rights Act several years ago, a number of states resumed their voter suppression efforts on minorities. The federal government needs to regain control over the states that have repeatedly engaged in this behavior. It is worth noting that when the Voting Rights Act had to go through re-certification in the Senate back in 2006, it was passed by a vote of 98-0.

And while I’m on my wish list for voting reform, can we do something about partisan gerrymandering along with standardizing on voting by mail so some people are not forced to spend hours in line to vote? In addition, as compared to some electronic voting systems, these mail-in ballots are not prone to hacking.

[A voting by mail] bill has little chance of passage — one of the core truths of US politics is that anything that increases voting turnout hurts Republicans, so they inevitably oppose it. But at the very least it ought to kick up a national conversation about America’s abysmal voting system and one dead-simple way to fix it.

It would be nice to think that the Democratic House, the Republican Senate and President will work together to pass bipartisan legislation. The Democrats certainly need to make an honest effort to keep from being perceived as only about revenge against Trump. But since the Republicans losing control of the House, Trump’s behavior has become even more combative and erratic. He has never been subject to checks and balances in his entire life. With the newly Democratic controlled House able to initiate investigations and issue subpoenas (tax returns, anybody?), Trump has vowed to retaliate at any cost. And with the possibility of indictments of close associates of Trump, perhaps even Don Jr., Trump has to be fearful of what’s coming his way next.

His many ongoing feuds have now expanded to include Chief Justice Roberts. And recently, a story has emerged that Trump had previously requested the Justice Department to prosecute political opponents James Comey and Hillary Clinton. What makes this even more creepy was the threat during one of the presidential debates that if he won, he would have his Attorney General prosecute Hillary, telling her that "you'd be in jail."

All this suggests that Trump is exhibiting the behavior of a cornered and wounded animal. This means war! And if indeed this is war, who will be the general to lead the opposition fight? If she regains the Speaker position, Nancy Pelosi will be the top-ranked Democrat in Washington.

A word about Nancy Pelosi and her fellow septuagenarians in the political scene. Pelosi is one of the most polarizing figures in Washington. For Republicans, she is a reliable bogeyman. ‘If you vote for Democrat X, you’re voting for that horrible California liberal, Nancy Pelosi.’ This has worked to where some Democratic House candidates had to declare themselves against Pelosi to confirm their centrist credentials.

The only real rap against Pelosi seems to be her age (78). But even her opponents have to concede that she has always been effective in her job. It is legitimate to criticize that because of age, someone may be less effective in doing their job. But to say that an effective worker has to be replaced simply because of their age, smacks of little more than ageism. Possible presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are still energetic and sharp minded. While one may disagree with them for political reasons, simply casting them aside based on their ages does us a disservice.

Congressman Adam Schiff who will likely take over the House Intelligence Committee in January gave what was to me the most persuasive reason to keep Pelosi as Speaker for at least the next two years. With President Trump waging a war on the House Democrats by every means possible, the Democrats need their best tactician to effectively fight back. A less experienced politician would not be nearly as effective at keeping Trump at bay until he himself has to face the electorate again in 2020.

And here is one more thing to think about. While a few Democrats are talking about impeachment, the chances of a Republican Senate voting to convict Trump would seem remote at best. But at the time of this posting, we still don’t know what bombshells Special Counsel Mueller may have in store (assuming he is not fired in the meantime).  Suppose he somehow really comes up with the goods where both Trump and his VP Mike Pence may be in danger of losing their jobs? One would hope that their replacement would have the right amount of experience to tide us over until the next presidential election. The next person in the line of succession if she regains her post as the Speaker would be...wait for it…Nancy Pelosi!

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