Some Very Good Ideas

One of the (depressingly few) public servants I really admire is Adam Schiff, who comported himself with dignity during Trump’s four years of monkey-poo-throwing antics. Schiff is highly intelligent and measured–attributes too few Congresspersons these days seem to share.

For example, rather than focusing solely on accountability for Trump, Schiff is trying to change the flaws in the system that enabled Trump’s authoritarianism and grifting.

According to columnist Jennifer Rubin, Schiff is proposing a bill to address the longtime accretion of executive power at the expense of Congress.

“While Donald Trump is no longer president, the fault lines he exposed in the foundation of our democracy remain — ready for a future unethical president to exploit,” Schiff said in a statement. “These weaknesses continue to erode the American people’s trust in our democratic institutions and the norms that are essential to a functioning democracy.”

The bill is chock-full of very good ideas. For one thing, it addresses the absolute nature of the Presidential pardon power, requiring the Justice Department to “provide materials to Congress concerning any self-serving presidential pardon or commutation in cases involving the President or his/her relatives, contempt of Congress, or obstruction of Congress.” it also makes it clear that pardons are “things of value” for purposes of federal bribery statutes. And it explicitly prohibits self-pardons by the President.

The bill goes well beyond the pardon power, however. It would suspend the statute of limitations for crimes committed by a president in office. In a move I find particularly important,  it clarifies the reach of the Emoluments Clause would specifically allow Congress to enforce its provisions.

The bill also seeks to end the sort of stalling we saw in the last administration that paralyzed congressional investigations, codifying “a cause of action for Congress to enforce its subpoenas, including those issued to government officials.” The bill also “expedites the judicial process for congressional subpoena enforcement actions; empowers courts to levy fines on government officials who willfully fail to comply with congressional subpoenas; and specifies the manner in which subpoena recipients must comply.

In response to such unilateral action as a president withholding previously appropriated aid (in Trump’s case, to extort Ukraine to produce dirt on his political opponent), the bill strengthens the Impoundment Control Act and beefs up disclosure requirements. Efforts to politicize the Justice Department would be limited by a requirement to keep a log of contacts with the White House and a reporting obligation for the inspector general.

Rubin points out that the bill has provisions that address nearly every Trump offense:  it requires both the president and vice president to disclose the last ten years of their tax returns, and  requires presidential campaigns to disclose foreign contacts. Other provisions protect inspectors general and whistleblowers, and increase penalties for Hatch Act violations.

I can only hope this bill passes. The odds of such passage would seem to be much greater with a Democrat in the White House–the spineless Congressional Republicans who enabled Trump would be likely to balk if a Republican was President, but will arguably be happy to vote for constraints that–at least initially–will apply to a member of the other party.

What is particularly positive about Schiff’s proposal isn’t just the obvious merit of the various provisions. It’s the recognition that the danger posed by Trump’s Presidency weren’t all attributable to his personal inadequacies and corruption. The lack of  sufficiently specific legal constraints made it much simpler for him to act in ways that enriched him and his family. Trump, fortunately, was incompetent. If a smoother, smarter version were to come along, that person could do inestimable harm.

Schiff understands the importance of legal clarity and enforceability. In a very real sense, his bill proposes to amend  James Carville’s famous admonition to read: “it’s the system, stupid!”

 

11 thoughts on “Some Very Good Ideas

  1. Yes. Schiff has crafted the proper legislation because he is a true patriot. But as long as the duped parts of our population keep electing Republicans, our democracy and the Constitution will remain at risk. Until Democrats have obtained a clear, strong majority in both houses of Congress, nothing will change and we’ll continue down the road of failed nations.

    Well done, voters. You continue to vote for Republicans and against the nation that made you comfortable. Is that a self-induced suicide pact?

  2. Yes, it is the system that is an utter failure. We see more and more polls showing the people’s will on central issues, yet their representatives can’t produce any results for the people.

    The Republicans aren’t held accountable for their non-voting because they have no platform. So why are voters electing Republicans? What are they supposed to be doing while in office? How can you measure their performance and decide to vote for them again?

    How can you be an informed voter when there is no rationale to vote for a Republican. They don’t vote yes for anything other than Defense spending and lower taxes for the rich.

    Everything else like infrastructure is no. Medicare increases are a no. So how can Republican voters, many aged and on Medicare and SS, vote for Republicans when they constantly vote against programs that benefit Seniors?

    The level of propaganda being spread is impressive to keep the people from revolting.

  3. “Schiff understands the importance of legal clarity and enforceability.”

    Until the importance of already established legal clarity and enforceability regarding elected officials to uphold their Oath of Office is enforced, the current situation with such as McConnell remaining in full power as minority leader will continue. He ruled over the Obama administration by ignoring his responsibilities as Senate majority leader and allowed Trump’s “deconstruction ” of our government and continues from his ruling position over the Republican party to prevent the federal government from fulfilling their requirements as stated in the Constitution of the United States of America.

  4. Occasionally I will watch Ari Melber on MSNBC – no other cable personality can seamlessly inject rap lyrics into political and cultural commentary like he does. But in last night’s show he got my attention by using the N-word. No, not THAT N-word, but Nihilism, which has both a philosophical definition of a body of thought that rejects all moral and religious principles, and that life is essentially meaningless. I do think that a growing number of our citizenry find life essentially meaningless – and likely in part due to the perception that they have been left out of the orgy of wealth accumulation enjoyed by those at the top of the pyramid.

    But it was as the last part of that definition that rang a bell – the historical-political definition refers to the doctrine of an extreme 1900’s Russian party that found nothing of value in the established social order. As a result they embraced “burning-it-down” as a desired and more attractive outcome than both the status quo as well as the promises being made by the Communists, who eventually did upend the social order and replaced it with one that was even more reprehensible. In the current American era, a not-insignificant number of citizens also reject a social order that benefits mostly elite-insiders and the super-rich. But they also reject the panoply of programs being pursued by the the Biden Administration to help the vast majority of poor, working-poor and middle-class citizens enjoy more stable and enriching lives. We know this isn’t rational from a micro-economic standpoint, and we know that part of it it driven by white supremacist/nationalist world-view, but neither explains it all. A full embrace of nihilism does.

    We need to follow Ari’s lead and call a duck a duck and stop arguing with these folks and their representatives in Congress over “policy issues”. The people involved in the January 6 insurrection, or attending local school board meetings to threaten board members about masks, vaccines and critical race theory did not do so to push an alternate set of policies. They are there to burn the place to the ground. The main stream press is ALWAYS going to represent them as “the other side of two legitimate sides” in order to maximize eyeballs, clicks and revenue. But they are not legitimate and they should not be respected nor engaged as a legitimate parter in a political system as they are operating outside of its realm.

    The recent stare-down over the debt-ceiling is just a distraction. Reconciliation bills about infrastructure are just distractions. If Congress doesn’t pass essential legislation to shore up the basement walls of democracy and voting rights then it’s all over. We will become pre-2003 Iraq with a ruling demagogue and party representing a minority population. “A Republic if you can keep it” could possibly become the most prescient political quotation in human history.

  5. It’s true that 45 had an impact unlike anyone who ever came before him and I am very happy that Congressman Schiff has recognized that and begun the process to codify the Constitutional strictures on the role of the Executive.

    Patrick, Ari Melber is my favorite talking head. I do love the rap within the rap.

  6. Everyday my hubby asks me if 45 has been arrested? Not yet, has been my answer so far. I hope Schiff can make us all happy in making sure 45 doesn’t become 47. I wanna see that perp walk to jail. In handcuffs, with no make up, no hair spray and no suit! Just his damn pajamas!

  7. Adam is my Congressman and, in addition to his dedication, determination and intelligence…I can assure you that, in person, he’s warm and attentive. I wish he were Prez.

  8. We do need more checks on the POTUS. The use of executive orders has, in my opinion, escalated because of the dysfunction in Congress. If this bill passes, we could have a check on corrupt cronyism like we see in the former president’s administration. I also wish we could create laws that do not allow family members of the POTUS to be part of their administration.

    Congressional over sight of the POTUS truly needs to be empowered to create a democracy with better checks and balances. We especially need it now since Trump or someone like him i.e. the Gov Abbot or his ilk run for the presidency of this country.

    I have a lot of respect fo Adam Schiff as well. I hope his bill passes. The question is will Sen. McConnell allow it to pass. Will it be a bipartisan effort?

    In the meantime, I am happy that the anti-abortion law that tells OB docs how to practice and restricts womens’ reproductive rights has been put on hold by a federal judge.

  9. Wonderful and needed reforms. Too bad virtually all pols of both parties are too busy with their and/or their party’s power be concerned about saving our democracy. Passing this? In your dreams. By ’22, the GOP will own at least the House and then The Former becomes The Current.

  10. The Reactionary GOP will oppose this legislation because that is their reason for existence, i.e., opposition. They have no real platform for improving America just an appeal to the Social-Cultural Warriors of the Reactionary GOP.

  11. Schiff has become a poster boy for enlightenment. He understands and accepts the power of liberal democracy to create government of, for, by the people.

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