With his executive order declaring a national emergency so that he can do an end-run around the congressional power of the purse in the Constitution, Trump’s national emergency declaration once again highlights his affinity for strongmen — and authoritarianism, the authoritarian wannabe tinpot dictator Donald Trump Is Trying to Hollow Out the Constitutional System of Checks and Balances (Peter Shane at Slate):
When President Donald J. Trump publishes his declaration of a national emergency requiring the construction of a wall on our southern border, that document will bear the formal signs of normal governance. The order will recite findings or at least assertions of fact. It will cite statutes—the act that authorizes its issuance and the statutes the president is triggering by signing his declaration. The same will be true of the complaints and legal briefs inevitably to be filed in its wake. There will be arguments familiar to administrative lawyers about standing, ripeness, reviewability, and statutory interpretation.
But hovering over all the familiar legal forms and practices is the depressing reality that Trump, as always, is endeavoring to hollow out the constitutional system of checks and balances. There is no national emergency at the border other than the tragedies of his creation. Gangs, sex traffickers, and drug smugglers are not invading the United States. His “crisis” is that Congress has refused to fund a campaign fantasy he promised that Mexico would pay for, and the smell of political defeat is more than he can bear.
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Congress could—and should—put a stop to this nonsense now. Under the National Security Act, it can nullify a declaration of national emergency. It can also just pass a statute providing that, for purposes of building a border wall, no funds shall be reallocated pursuant to whatever statutes Trump cites. Any self-respecting legislative branch would stand up to Trump’s aggression by a vote so overwhelming as to overcome any veto threat. Such resistance, unfortunately, is altogether unlikely.
The man who supposedly jealously guards the powers and prerogatives of the institution of the Senate has surrendered the Senate to the personality cult of Donald Trump.
On Thursday, despite having previously expressed skepticism for the plan, “The Enemy of The People,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced that he would support the president’s move. “I think he ought to feel free to use whatever tools he can legally use to enhance his effort to secure the border, so no I would not be troubled by that,” the Senate leader told reporters.
At this point I would not be surprised at all if “The Enemy of The People,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, would pass an Enabling Act giving “Dear Leader” the power to enact laws without the involvement of the Congress, transforming our constitutional democracy into a an authoritarian dictatorship. Craven Republicans in thrall to the personality cult of Donald Trump in Congress would willingly surrender constitutional powers to “Dear Leader” with authoritarian zeal. The feeble Republicans will not fulfill their oaths (Jennifer Rubin). The only thing standing in their way is Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic control of the House of Representatives.
Adam Jentleson, former deputy chief of staff to retired Senator Harry Reid, writes at the New York Times, How Mitch McConnell Enables Trump, “He’s not an institutionalist. He’s the man who surrendered the Senate to the president”:
Among the casualties of President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build his border wall is the reputation of the majority leader Mitch McConnell as a Senate institutionalist. The evidence of the last few days has confirmed, if there were still any doubt, that he is no such thing.
First, he helped prolong the longest government shutdown in American history by insisting that the Senate would act only with explicit approval from the president. Now Mr. McConnell has fully acquiesced in President Trump’s power grab by supporting an emergency declaration, which he opposed just weeks before, aimed at addressing a crisis that Senate Republicans know does not exist.
This display of obedience (obsequiousness) from the leader of a supposedly coequal branch of government is shocking only if you ever believed Mr. McConnell was an institutionalist. But his defining characteristic has always been his willingness to do anything and sacrifice any principle to amass power for himself. What separates him from the garden-variety politicians — what makes him a radical — are the lengths he is willing to go. Seeing this with clarity should help us grasp the danger to which he is subjecting the Senate — and, more important, our democracy.
I covered this in a post last week. The ‘Enemy of The People,’ Mitch McConnell, is the real radical (snippet):
As Dana Milbank wrote, Mitch McConnell, the man who broke America:
By rights, McConnell’s tombstone should say that he presided over the end of the Senate. And I’d add a second line: “He broke America.” No man has done more in recent years to undermine the functioning of U.S. government. His has been the epitome of unprincipled leadership, the triumph of tactics in service of short-term power.
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As Charles Pierce says, There Is No More Loathsome Creature Walking Our Political Landscape Than Mitch McConnell:
He doesn’t have the essential patriotism god gave a snail. He pledges allegiance to his donors, and they get what they want. He’s selling out his country, and he’s doing it in real-time and out in the open. This is worse than McCarthy or McCarran ever were. Mitch McConnell is the the thief of the nation’s soul.
As historian Christopher Browning has written, “If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell.” The Suffocation of Democracy.
Adam Jentleson reiterates many of my points:
The signs of Mr. McConnell’s malign influence were always there. Before he became a Senate leader, he dedicated himself to opening the floodgates for corporate money to flow into our political system. Mr. McConnell chased the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law all the way to the Supreme Court; the 2003 challenge to the law bears his name. Mr. McConnell lost that one, but his cause prevailed six years later when the Supreme Court overturned restrictions on corporate contributions in Citizens United.
In 2010, as minority leader, Mr. McConnell stated that his main goal was not to help our country recover from the Great Recession but to make President Obama a “one-term president.” A self-declared “proud guardian of gridlock,” he presided over an enormous escalation in the use of the filibuster. His innovation was to transform it (weaponize it) from a procedural tool used to block bills into a weapon of nullification, deploying it against even routine Senate business to gridlock the legislative process.
The two forces that characterized Mr. McConnell’s career, obstruction and increasing the power of corporate money in our democracy, have worked hand in hand to diminish the Senate and paralyze American politics. The flood of outside money incentivized obstruction over cooperation, and a new generation of Republicans embraced Mr. McConnell’s obstructionist tactics. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, for example, owes his standing to a few filibusters and a super PAC: As a freshman senator, he used Mr. McConnell’s tactics to shut down the government in 2013 and parlayed the resulting attention — and fund-raising — to run for president (and lose to Mr. Trump).
Republicans actually took the Senate majority in 2014 in large part on claims to restore the Senate. Unsurprisingly, they broke their promises. Under President Trump, Mr. McConnell continued to run roughshod over Senate traditions, jamming the $1.5 trillion tax bill through without so much as a proper hearing. The one place the Senate has functioned efficiently is in judicial confirmations, but even here Mr. McConnell has cast aside bipartisan norms and reduced the Senate to a rubber stamp for some unqualified, extremist judges, including those rated “unqualified” by the American Bar Association.
Mr. McConnell is not playing three-dimensional chess. There is no grand strategy or long game — there is only what best serves his narrow interest. And since 2010, Mr. McConnell has been convinced that his interests are best served through strict obedience to the Republican base. That year, his handpicked candidate, Trey Grayson, lost a Senate Republican primary in Kentucky to an insurgent named Rand Paul. It was a humiliating defeat and called into question Mr. McConnell’s power in his own backyard. It also invited a Tea Party challenge against his re-election in 2014.
Since that scare, Mr. McConnell has rigidly adhered to whatever the base wants, institutions be damned. When the base wanted Judge Merrick Garland blocked, he obeyed. When the base wanted Mr. Trump embraced, he obeyed. While Paul Ryan was playing Hamlet in the summer of 2016, Mr. McConnell quickly endorsed Mr. Trump, providing institutional cover and repeatedly assuring Republicans that Trump would “be fine.” Mr. McConnell didn’t think Trump was going to win — he has said so himself — but he probably figured that the damage could be contained.
The crass self-interest at so many turns now poses a danger to our democracy. With Mr. Trump increasingly erratic and Robert Mueller’s investigation advancing, there is simply no reason to believe he will stand up for American institutions when it counts. He has already demonstrated a willingness to put his self-interest above America’s national security: In a classified briefing in 2016, Mr. McConnell reportedly cast doubt on C.I.A. intelligence about Russia’s interference in our election and threatened that if President Obama publicly challenged Russia, he’d twist it into a partisan issue. And when the four congressional leaders drafted a bipartisan letter to the states urging them to take action to protect our election infrastructure against Russian interference, Mr. McConnell categorically rejected all efforts to strengthen the letter.
Last week, Mr. McConnell had a choice. He didn’t have to acquiesce to the emergency declaration — he could have asserted the Senate’s independence at a critical time by passing the spending bill without validating Mr. Trump’s emergency declaration. If that prompted a veto, Mr. McConnell could have overridden it. That would be real leadership, and a clear assertion of the Senate’s independence. Instead, he meekly acquiesced in another presidential power grab.
In the months ahead, our institutions are likely to be tested as rarely before. Under a strong leader, the Senate could provide a critical counterweight to an out-of-control executive. Instead, we have a man who will put his self-interest first, every single time. We should enter this chapter with clarity and finally see Mr. McConnell for what he is. He’s not an institutionalist. He is the man who surrendered the Senate to Donald Trump.
He is “The Enemy of The People.”
I have said before that Mitch McConnell belongs in the pantheon of the worst senators in U.S. history. He is demonstrably a villain who believes in authoritarianism, as long as his party and he remains in control. No one has abused the rules of the Senate and American democracy more than has Mitch McConnell. History will not remember him kindly, nor should it. His name should be spoken with disdain as we do for those most despised villains in American history.