Democrats have the majority in the House of Representatives. They can use this power for investigations of Donald Trump, but these should not be their principal focus, for such hearings will appear to many as acts of revenge or vindictiveness that are primarily aimed at pleasing the Democratic Party’s base. They might be the Democratic equivalent of all those endless and fruitless Benghazi hearings and not much different from demagogic Trump rallies. Investigations and hearings should serve and be seen to serve some broad national purpose, not just as spectacles to rile up or satisfy partisans.
This does not mean that all Trump investigations are unwarranted. We should know whether the president, his family, or those around him have economic and social interests that could be affecting our country’s policies. Could our relationships with Saudi Arabia be colored because of financial links between that country and the president or his family? Does the expansion of certain economic opportunity areas benefit the Kushner family? Is the relaxation of auto fuel standards driven by connections between the oil industry and the administration? Unfortunately, there are many such possible topics for exploration by sober investigations and hearings, and they should be done.
The House Democrats should not, however, enter the new Congress focused on articles of impeachment of Trump. Perhaps information will come to light that would justify the removal of the president, but under the present circumstances the Senate would not convict the president. Much has been made of recent guilty pleas and arrangements with prosecutors that suggest Donald Trump broke campaign finance laws, but even so, those violations by themselves will not bring a conviction in the Senate, for surely violations of campaign finance laws are legion and others are not removed for them. And the campaign finance problems really sound as if the Democrats are going after Trump for lying about sex. Sound familiar?
The Democrats should wait for Mueller to complete his investigation and only then consider strategies. Articles of impeachment may seem satisfying to certain partisans, but if there is no realistic chance of conviction in the Senate, impeachment will only further inflame and divide the country, and probably do the almost impossible: make Trump into a sympathetic figure.
A House impeachment without a solid chance of removal by the Senate would be grandstanding, and Democrats should avoid grandstanding. Instead, they should try to legislate and govern. The House should concentrate on passing good, cogent, well-researched legislation. Okay, okay, I know that that is a radical notion. Congress, whose constitutional purpose is to pass legislation, no longer seems to be much concerned with legislating. More often, a congressional party’s primary goal is to score political points. However, Democrats should realize that legislation that would help the country can be both good for the country and good for politics.
Objections will come that working on substantive legislation is a waste of effort because nothing that the Democrats propose will stand a chance of passage. The Republican-controlled Senate will simply kill any House initiative. But not so fast. What if House Democrats concentrated on legislative measures that President Trump has promised to support. We forget that there are important areas of apparent agreement between the rivals.
On what issues do Democrats agree with Trump? President Trump campaigned on increased infrastructure spending. As with many of his promises, he was not consistent in what he pledged–500 billion dollars, a trillion dollars, 1.5 trillion dollars. Nevertheless, more infrastructure spending was promised. He loudly and proudly pledged that he would “build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, sea ports and airports that our country deserves.”
Democrats agree with that, and the House should pass an infrastructure bill for the needs most obvious to many Americans: roads, bridges, tunnels, and the like—the stuff that Donald Trump said that he was going to improve. Such a law would produce many benefits: It would show actual governing; it would improve the everyday lives of many, it would further commerce and, therefore, the economy. This is a no-brainer–is there anyone who does not think we need such infrastructure improvement?
The House, however, should not stop at the traditional hard-hat areas. Our power grid was largely built fifty or more years ago, and many have said that it is not adequate for the twenty-first century—indeed that it poses national security risks. I don’t know if that is true, but I am willing to bet that many (most?) in Congress don’t know either.
Legislative hearings can serve purposes other than trying to score political points. They can collect information about problems and can suggest workable ideas that can be turned into legislation that would ameliorate the problems. Good hearings about our aging power grid might accomplish such things. At a minimum, the hearings could help educate Congress and the country and have the added political bonus of showing that the Democrats are truly interested in governing and helping the country. From the information and proposals garnered from such hearings, the House should pass a bill that would improve our power grid.
(continued January 4)