WASHINGTON: The best way to prevent abuse of government power is for one party to control the White House. The other party to control at least one house of Congress. This prevents over-reach by either branch of government. It allows for congressional oversight or a presidential veto.
For this Constitutional system to work, both the White House and the Congress must respect the role assigned to the other branch. This means that the Executive must work with a reasonable and responsible Congress.
In today’s political arena, the House is the body investigating the President.
However, there is little indication that the House representative plan to take their responsibilities reasonably any more than the President plans to cooperate.
The calls for Presidential impeachment, as evidenced by Rep. Maxine Waters, began before the President took office:
Despite the Mueller Report saying the underlying crime the President was accused of, Russia Collusion did not happen, the House now seeks to find the president of non-defined obstruction.
Historical support of Congress’ role
James Wilson, who signed the Declaration of Independence, and took one of the Supreme Court’s first six seats, believed that
“The House of Representatives (shall) form the grand inquest of the state. They shall diligently inquire into grievances.”
Many Supreme Court decisions have affirmed that Congress has vast investigative and oversight power. This power to check any excesses of the executive branch. However, Congress is crying for impeachment over tax records of a private citizen, not the executive.
President Trump accuses Congress of being “partisan” in subpoenaing power.
Here, the President may be correct. However, this is how the system is meant to work. With one party keeping an eye on the other.
The Economist notes that:
“Partisanship influences how those powers are used. A Democratic Congress investigated Richard Nixon. During the Clinton administration, the Republican-led House issued more than 1,000 subpoenas and held hearings on the Clinton Christmas card list. Presidents have rebuffed requests, but none has done what Donald Trump has: declare, ‘We’re fighting all the subpoenas,’ sue to block them, and instruct officials to ignore them. He seems to feel that partisanship renders oversight illegitimate. That view is dangerous.” – ( Donald Trump’s war on oversight What’s happening now could reshape the relationship between Congress and the presidency)
Consider the refusal of Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin who, in May, declined to release six years of Mr. Trump’s personal tax returns to Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. This action ignored a law passed in 1924 which states that the Internal Revenue Service: “shall furnish…any return or return information” to the committee when “specified by written request.”
Rep. Neal wrote requesting the returns. Mr. Mnuchin “determined that the committee’s request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.” Where Mr. Mnuchin thinks he has the authority to make such a determination, he did not say.
Fifty-Percent of Americans support the President
Another publicly speaking out is former Sen William Cohen (R-Maine). Cohen, a prior Secretary of Defense, was a member of the House from 1979–1997 serving on the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate impeachment inquiry. Cohen is not active in the Senate today. Therefore he does not enjoy insider information.
However, his historical insight might be helpful.
Regarding Watergate, Cohen writes that:
“In the end, six Republicans…felt compelled to place loyalty to the rule of law above our political affiliation and political futures. We concluded that Nixon clearly had engaged in obstruction of justice and abuse of power.”
Of today’s situation, Cohen provides this assessment:
“The silence of Republicans today in the face of presidential behavior that is unacceptable by any reasonable standard is both striking and deeply disappointing. When one talks privately to some Republican members about a president who lurches from tweet to tweet, who according to those who have worked closely beside him, is incapable of telling the truth even in mundane situations, who accepts the word of Vladimir Putin, and rejects the unanimous judgment of our intelligence community that Russia launched a cyber attack at the very heart of our democracy, and whose toxic combination of egotism and insecurity distorts the basic process of governing, they express their disdain and even alarm at how he conducts the nation’s affairs.” – He broke with GOP under Nixon; his advice for them today
If more Republicans began to say publicly what I allege is being said privately, the Trump presidency might restore to some form of adherence to the recognizable Constitutional system of checks and balances.
However, if things do not change, William Cohen concludes,
“Congress should not turn away from the central issue of whether Trump has, in word and deed, engaged in conduct that is fundamentally inconsistent with and antithetical to, the highest office in the land. If Congress can’t secure the cooperation of executive branch officials in the exercise of its oversight responsibilities, it will have no choice but to enter the temple and remove the fabled sword.”
The U.S. Capitol Dome by Architect of the Capitol
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