President Donald Trump’s efforts to thwart what he considers redundant investigations of his administration by hostile committees of the House of Representatives have caused the media, who loved executive power during the Obama administration, to disdain it when exercised by Trump.
“Democrats have so far struggled to cobble together a unified strategy for enforcing their subpoenas while Trump, who will try to delay any disclosure of information until after the 2020 election, is still in office,” wrote Griffin Connolly of Roll Call under the headline “Democrats learning the subpoenas are only as powerful as Trump allows” – subhead: “Congress has never faced the all-encompassing opposition to administrative oversight the president is putting up.”
All that is keeping the Democrats from taking severe action now to punish Trump for defying their subpoenas for documents and witnesses is their sense of decency and decorum, Connolly wrote.
“Some have proposed deploying an arcane measure called ‘inherent contempt’ to fine or even jail Trump administration officials who defy subpoenas,” he wrote. “Democratic House leadership hasn’t entirely ruled that out, though the optics of the House sergeant-at-arms going to the homes of Trump advisers, putting them in handcuffs and marching them to holding cells in the Capitol isn’t very palatable for some Democrats.”
The stakes are high for Democrats, Connolly wrote.
“The clamor for a coherent way forward has resurfaced existential questions for lawmakers about the limits of legislative branch authority, the most pressing of which goes roughly as follows: “If we can’t reasonably enforce our only mechanism to compel information about the executive branch – the subpoena – what kind of government do we have?
“A ‘dictatorship,’ offered Barbara Lawrence, a Michigan Democrat on the House Oversight and Reform Committee. A ‘monarch,’ House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York said.”
Before Trump, congressional investigations “relied more on ‘norms and comity’ than contempt of Congress votes, litigation and jail threats,” Connolly wrote. The administration still has a stake in preserving relationships with Congress, he wrote – money to carry out its functions and confirmation votes for political appointees among them.
“But the theoretical world is a far cry from the one we live in now,” Connolly wrote.
Now, Congress cedes power to the White House by passing stopgap continuing resolutions rather than the traditional federal appropriations process, he wrote, failing to note President Trump has insisted on a return to the old way and got nine of the 13 appropriations bills passed on time in the previous Congress, and having this funding already approved is why most of the federal government functioned as normal during the longest-ever government shutdown last December and January.
The continuing resolutions reduce incentives for presidents to negotiate, Connolly wrote.
And “on top of that crumbling institutional foundation sits Trump, a uniquely pugnacious president whose administration and personal and business finances are under intense scrutiny from a Democrat-controlled House, eager to unearth any malfeasance.”
Connolly’s narrative and his listing of the “crimes” the House is investigating – “business conflicts of interest and allegations of illegal hush payments he dished out to his former paramours during the 2016 campaign; … whether he is compromised by financial ties to foreign entities, including the Russian government, and whether those alleged ties pose a security risk to the country he governs;” and the Ways and Means Committee’s efforts to obtain his tax returns to “investigate whether he’s cooking the books” – exposes the lack of nexus for investigations that Trump cites in his characterizations of the subpoena-fest as “presidential harassment.”
Connolly wrote that whether Trump’s strategy works is up to the voters. “With Trump casting aside norms of congressional oversight with more frequency and vigor than any president before him,” Connolly wrote without evidence, “Democrats have said voters will have to decide whether this is the kind of balance they want between the executive and legislative branches.”