Well now, this is interesting.
POLITICO Tiger Beat on the Potomac reports, Electors demand intelligence briefing before Electoral College vote:
In a letter to National Intelligence Director James Clapper, the electors — nine Democrats and one Republican — argue that they require the information ahead of Dec. 19, when the Electoral College is set to meet and select the next president.
“The Electors require to know from the intelligence community whether there are ongoing investigations into ties between Donald Trump, his campaign or associates, and Russian government interference in the election, the scope of those investigations, how far those investigations may have reached, and who was involved in those investigations,” they wrote. “We further require a briefing on all investigative findings, as these matters directly impact the core factors in our deliberations of whether Mr. Trump is fit to serve as President of the United States.”
The letter is signed by electors from five states and the District of Columbia. In addition to Christine Pelosi — a California elector — it includes a signature from one former members of Congress: New Hampshire’s Carol Shea-Porter.
Shea-Porter’s three other New Hampshire colleagues — Terie Norelli, Bev Hollingsworth and Dudley Dudley — also signed the letter. D.C. Councilwoman Anita Bonds, former Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell and Maryland activist Courtney Watson round out the nine Democratic signatories. Colorado Democratic elector Micheal Baca, leader of an effort to turn the Electoral College against Trump, is also on the list. Texas’ Chris Suprun, an emergency responder who has been a vocal critic of Trump, is the only Republican elector to sign on.
“Yes, we the Electors should have temporary security clearance to perform our constitutional duty in reviewing the facts regarding outside interference in the US election and the intelligence agencies should declassify as much data as possible while protecting sources and methods so that the American people can learn the truth about our election,” said Pelosi.
Though the letter doesn’t explicitly endorse a separate effort by electors in Colorado, Washington and California to stop Trump from winning the presidency, it represents the latest effort by Democratic electors to look to the Electoral College as a possible bulwark against a Trump presidency.
The letter begins with a lengthy defense of the Electoral College’s role in the election process. The Democrats argue that it’s their duty not simply to rubber-stamp the Election Day results but to “investigate, discuss, and deliberate with our colleagues about whom to vote for.” They point to Trump’s repeated rejection of intelligence assessments suggesting Russia’s meddling in the election, as well as his suggestion during the campaign that Russia should unearth some of Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. And, they note, Trump has dismissed reports over the weekend that the U.S. intelligence community had determined Russia intervened in the election to help him win.
“Trump’s willingness to disregard conclusions made by the intelligence community and his continuing defense of Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin demand close scrutiny and deliberation from the Electoral College,” they write.
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Hillary Clinton’s campaign said it is supporting a request by members of the Electoral College for an intelligence briefing on foreign intervention in the presidential election.
“The bipartisan electors’ letter raises very grave issues involving our national security,” Clinton’s former campaign chairman John Podesta said in a statement on Monday. “Electors have a solemn responsibility under the Constitution and we support their efforts to have their questions addressed.”
“Each day in October, our campaign decried the interference of Russia in our campaign and its evident goal of hurting our campaign to aid Donald Trump,” he said. “Despite our protestations, this matter did not receive the attention it deserved by the media in the campaign. We now know that the CIA has determined Russia’s interference in our elections was for the purpose of electing Donald Trump. This should distress every American.”
The 538 members of the Electoral College are slated to meet in their state capitals on Dec. 19 to cast the official vote for president.
The electors are correct that “it’s their duty not simply to rubber-stamp the Election Day results but to investigate, discuss, and deliberate with our colleagues about whom to vote for.” As Alexander Hamilton described in the Federalist Papers, Federalist No. 68:
It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any preestablished body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.
It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.
It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.
Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union? But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment. And they have excluded from eligibility to this trust, all those who from situation might be suspected of too great devotion to the President in office. No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the numbers of the electors. Thus without corrupting the body of the people, the immediate agents in the election will at least enter upon the task free from any sinister bias. Their transient existence, and their detached situation, already taken notice of, afford a satisfactory prospect of their continuing so, to the conclusion of it. The business of corruption, when it is to embrace so considerable a number of men, requires time as well as means. Nor would it be found easy suddenly to embark them, dispersed as they would be over thirteen States, in any combinations founded upon motives, which though they could not properly be denominated corrupt, might yet be of a nature to mislead them from their duty.
Another and no less important desideratum was, that the Executive should be independent for his continuance in office on all but the people themselves. He might otherwise be tempted to sacrifice his duty to his complaisance for those whose favor was necessary to the duration of his official consequence. This advantage will also be secured, by making his re-election to depend on a special body of representatives, deputed by the society for the single purpose of making the important choice.
Christopher Baylor explains at the Washington Post, A key reason the founders wanted the electoral college: To keep out demagogues and bullies:
If U.S. citizens today think of the electoral college, it’s as a rubber stamp for each state’s popular vote — a stamp that gives extra power to less populous states’ voters. But that’s not precisely what the founders envisioned. Originally, the electoral college’s function was to select statesman who would rise above petty politics, who would safeguard the enduring interests of the republic.
As political scientist Jeffrey Tulis argues in “The Rhetorical Presidency,” his canonical book on the history of presidential rhetoric, the founders believed that leaving the selection up to ordinary voters would lead to presidents who were like any other politicians, unlikely to successfully check and balance Congress when it indulged the passions of the electorate over enduring constitutional interests.
Few if any modern presidents fit that mold, of course. Today, the popular vote elects politicians. But many commentators (including Tulis) have suggested that, given the way he campaigned, a President Donald Trump might deviate even more than usual from the founders’ vision.
Let’s think about what that vision encompasses.
1. The founders feared demagogues.
The founders feared the kind of demagoguery then rampant in state legislatures. Tulis noted two kinds of demagoguery. “Soft” demagogues told the voters they were right and turned them against elites, even when elites had better ideas than the voters did. “Hard” demagogues rallied people against unpopular minorities as a way of gaining power.
Under the Articles of Confederation, many citizens were in serious debt. Soft demagogues promised to help through debt reduction laws or currency inflation that would have benefited debtors at the expense of lenders, reducing the availability of lending in the long term.
That was on display in Massachusetts after Shays’s Rebellion, which followed other states in placing a moratorium on debts. Both the rebellion and the moratorium helped persuade the founders to adopt a new government.
Hard demagogues exploited popular prejudices against minorities, such as people loyal to Britain. Nowhere was this more evident than in Pennsylvania, where the Philadelphia Assembly passed laws disenfranchising Quakers. Pennsylvania epitomized the flaws of democratic majorities unencumbered by checks and balances, where a unicameral state legislature was not subject to a governor’s veto.
Witnessing the follies of state governments, the architects of the Constitution believed that legislative power should be checked by executives who would block unconstitutional legislation.
The Constitution was designed to restrain short-term impulses in favor of the country’s long-term interests. Both presidents and the Supreme Court were expected to rise above the din of politics and review legislation for constitutionality. In James Madison’s original design, the Constitution even gave Congress the power to veto state legislation. Founders feared that popular elections for president would lead presidents to have their own policy agendas rather than acting to safeguard the Constitution.
And, of course, they were right. Between 1789 and 1836, states tied their electoral votes to popular votes. Presidential candidates do promise policies.
But that doesn’t mean they must slide into demagoguery. Candidates often indulge in what the founders called “soft demagoguery,” promising to fight for the voters’ ideas, and against the ideas of “out of touch” Washington elites. But Trump escalated this antagonism toward outsiders. When Trump announced his candidacy June 16, 2015, he famously said:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. . . . They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Similarly, after the San Bernardino attacks, his campaign released a statement that read:
Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.
Inciting popular passions while neglecting legal and constitutional restraints is precisely the opposite of the founders’ vision of presidents. By using problematic stereotypes of Muslims, Mexicans, women and other groups, Trump’s campaign arguably represents hard demagoguery.
2. The founders wanted to protect congressional deliberation
Tulis contends that the electoral college was also intended to protect congressional deliberation. By holding hearings with experts and deliberating in private, Congress could refine hasty proposals into effective policies. Even if presidential candidates were not demagogues, the founders feared that presidential rhetoric in itself could intrude on productive deliberation, pushing poorly designed policies through Congress. For example, Tulis argues that Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” rhetoric impeded the success of antipoverty programs by designing policies around the metaphor rather than letting experts design the policy first.
Of course, such strong rhetoric is now common. Presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama have exhorted the public to ask their members of Congress to take action, or attacked Congress in the hopes of injecting energy into a gridlocked system. They have even attacked opponents’ motives instead of debating the merits of policy.
But Trump has gone further than attacking the institution. He has singled out specific members of Congress and called them names, as when he called House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) a “weak and ineffective leader” and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “Pocahontas.”
The only president of the 19th century to attack individual members of Congress, Andrew Johnson, compared himself to Jesus and his congressional opponents to Judas. The House of Representatives impeached Johnson on 11 charges, one of which was declaring “with a loud voice certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues” against Congress, disregarding the “dignity and proprieties” of his office.
Name-calling threatens to replace policy debates with bullying.
The modern electoral college is, arguably, the worst of all worlds. It does not encourage republican virtues, as the founders planned. Nor does it confer the democratic legitimacy that modern Americans expect.
Many efforts are underway to block Trump in the electoral college. If Trump is guilty of the demagoguery his detractors accuse him of, doing so would be consistent with its original design.
But perhaps candidate Trump intended all along to use his campaign rhetoric merely to help him reach the Oval Office, and didn’t literally mean that he would prosecute his former opponent, register individuals by religion or deport people en masse. As he becomes president, observers can assess for themselves whether he shifts into rhetoric that better meets the founders’ republican hopes.
The egomaniacal Twitter troll-in-chief has shown little evidence of this to date.