Nearly every day brings news of another Donald Trump cabinet appointee whose agenda would hurt millions of Americans. Yesterday, we learned that the next secretary of Health and Human Services will be U.S. House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price, who favors rapid privatization of Medicare, less protection for people with pre-existing health conditions, and total repeal of the Medicaid expansion that has saved lives.
But I want to set government policy aside for now and focus on an equally urgent matter. The president-elect is not mentally fit for the world's most important job. Unfortunately, all signs point to Republicans in Congress enabling and normalizing his erratic and dangerous behavior.
It is not normal for the president-elect to profit from foreign diplomats staying at his hotel, to keep meeting with international business partners, to let his daughter (who will be running his corporations) sit in on conversations with foreign leaders, to talk up his business partners in those conversations, or to use foreign business ties to enrich himself in any way.
It is not normal for the president-elect to call for jailing or revoking the citizenship of people who engage in protest protected under the First Amendment, as the late Justice Antonin Scalia recognized. (The comedian Dean Obeidallah commented this morning, "Keep waiting for Trump's tweet slamming white supremacists and Anti-Semites with this much passion.")
You don't have to be an attorney to see that Trump will soon be violating not only his company's lease on the historic Post Office Pavilion, but probably also the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Yet with a few exceptions like Never-Trumper Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, prominent Republicans have raised no concerns about Trump since election day. Iowa's GOP establishment was united behind the presidential nominee this year, and I expect Governor Terry Branstad, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, and others to bask in Trump's reflected glory at the "thank you" rally likely to be held in Des Moines soon.
Senator Joni Ernst took the stage at the Republican National Convention to tell Americans Trump would keep us safer. For this inexperienced president-elect, famously ignorant about foreign affairs, to be avoiding intelligence briefings should be a five-alarm fire. Where is Ernst on that?
Senator Chuck Grassley has said little about Trump since November 8, other than to praise his choices of Jeff Sessions for attorney general and Donald McGahn for White House counsel. (McGahn has a reputation as "one of the nation’s most polarizing election lawyers" after presiding over a dysfunctional Federal Election Commission.)
Representative Rod Blum serves on the House Oversight Committee. Why hasn't he said a word about any of the above? Meanwhile, Representative David Young has kept busy with non-controversial local appearances, continuing his pre-election strategy of pretending Trump doesn't exist.
I wouldn't expect Representative Steve King to criticize Trump, since the self-styled "constitutional conservative" is now angling for a Homeland Security job.
Journalists have an important role to play in exposing Trump's lies, corruption, and instability. Democrats can and should fight this regime and take every opportunity to remind the public that Trump is a minority president.
But Republicans hold the keys now. They can choose to serve as an institutional check, or put partisanship and conservative ideology over country. President Richard Nixon saw the writing on the wall when his fellow Republicans rejected his abuses of power. Trump lacks the attention span and impulse control to change how he operates. Only Congress can constrain him or, if necessary, remove him from office.
Scholars of authoritarian regimes see many parallels in current American political trends. So does Masha Gessen, who lived through President Vladimir Putin's consolidation of power and knows first-hand the "slippery slope of collaboration" with an autocratic leader. In his post here over the weekend, Kieran Williams wrote that "normalization" happens "because people in a position to stop it decide to play along, and find ways to convince themselves that they are doing the right thing, for either the greater good or the narrow good of kith and kin."
There are many ways in which authoritarian creep can be resisted [...]. But the initial challenge is not so much to persuade the powerless – with nothing to lose – that they in fact can make a difference; it is to press those in positions of power – and thus having everything to lose – to resist the temptation to be and do the lesser evil, because it is still an evil.
We need Grassley, Ernst, Blum, Young, and many of their colleagues to step up now. I wish I could see some sign that they are up to the task.
UPDATE: Michael McAuliff reported for the Huffington Post on November 29 that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy doesn't support Congressional investigations into Trump's conflicts of interest.
“He has a very big business,” the congressman went on. “I assume, especially when we have people who come to Congress and they have a business — it takes them a while, and what Ethics Committee does, it gives them a chance to set it up in the proper way. And that may mean making different changes. So I don’t think we expected him the first day to be able to change his entire business structure, but I think there will be a process.” [...]
“I never think in Congress that you just pick, to go in the instance that you’re going after someone, and there’s not something there,” McCarthy said.
“Why don’t you give him a opportunity, when he’s just now appointed a legal counsel, to go through, put it in order and display that to the American people of what the structure is before we’re saying Trump needs to be investigated?” he asked.
And, likely to the amazement of Democrats who have complained about endless probes into Hillary Clinton’s behavior, McCarthy argued that it’s time to back off on investigations.
“I think for too long, some of these rules have been used that way, and I think it’s been a bad thing, and it’s harmed the ability for people all to work together,” McCarthy said. “Let’s take a deep breath. We’re going into a new year, we’ve got big problems before us.”
SECOND UPDATE: Writing for Fusion a few days before the election, Andrew Joyce explained how "Using Section IV of the 25th Amendment, Congress could remove a potential President Trump."
In 1967, lawmakers in Washington, still reeling from the JFK assassination four years earlier, became fixated on the rules of succession and what to do if a president died or was unable to fulfill his or her duties as president. The Constitution had some procedures in place already, but they weren’t totally clear and didn’t prepare for a full range of possible scenarios. So Congress ratified the 25th Amendment to make sure the rules were clear no matter what happened. [...]
Section IV lays out the rules for how Congress or the president’s own cabinet could remove the president and install the vice president as acting leader of the free world. [...]
As previously alluded to, there are two ways that a president can be removed under Section IV. First, a majority of the president’s cabinet—the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Defense, etc., could get together with the vice president and declare the president unfit to serve. Given that Donald Trump will probably only appoint people to his cabinet that are loyal to him, this is the least likely method for success. [...]
The second way for removing the president is also a long shot, but one that the peculiar circumstances of a Trump presidency could make possible. Instead of the president’s cabinet, the vice president can join with a majority of House members and a majority of Senators to declare the president unfit to serve.
Click through for more details on an endgame that is about as likely to happen as the earth crashing into the sun in our lifetimes. Still, fun fodder for scenario spinners.
THIRD UPDATE: In October, House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz told the Washington Post that he planned to spend years investigating Hillary Clinton.
“It’s a target-rich environment,” the Republican said in an interview in Salt Lake City’s suburbs. “Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”
Margaret Hartmann reported on November 29,
Amid staggering evidence of Trump’s conflicts of interest — from letting the manager of his blind trust sit in on meetings with foreign dignitaries to allowing his D.C. hotel to court foreign diplomats — Chaffetz has ignored calls to launch an investigation into the president-elect.
On Monday, the 17 Democratic members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a letter calling on Chaffetz to “begin reviewing [Trump’s] financial arrangements in order to identify and protect against conflicts of interest.” Two weeks ago, Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the committee’s ranking Democrat, made a similar request.
And it’s not just Democrats. The Salt Lake Tribune said Chaffetz should investigate Trump, and a Republican who sits on the committee has called out the president-elect for his business conflicts [...]
Chaffetz has responded to each of these requests with complete silence.
Chaffetz commented to Matt Fuller,
Chaffetz told The Huffington Post Tuesday night that Trump hadn’t even been sworn in yet. “So give him some time to organize, get their staff and their counsel all situated,” he said.
Chaffetz added: “It’s sort of ridiculous to go after him when his financial disclosure is already online.”
Asked about the conflict of interest related to Trump's company operating the hotel in the Old Post Office,
“I think that’s true of every president,” Chaffetz said. “That’s not a unique situation.”
When HuffPost disagreed ― again, presidents are not normally renting out government properties ― Chaffetz doubled down.
“Yes, because what you find is that most presidents, including, and I think Vice President Biden, gets a check from the Secret Service,” Chaffetz said.