August 09, 2018

Nunes Teaches Us How Congress Is Supposed To Work

Perfectly balanced, as all things should be

by Chris Thomas

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Devin Nunes didn’t know he was being recorded when he told a supporter the following

So therein lies what’s like your classic Catch-22 situation where we’re at a — it puts us in such a tough spot. If Sessions won’t un-recuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones, which is really the danger. That’s why I keep — and thank you for saying it by the way — I mean, we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away

Nunes is right. Since President Trump took his oath of office the Republican majority in Congress has acted like an umbrella for him. This is, fundamentally, not how Congress is supposed to work. Congress is a co-equal branch of government; its job isn’t to protect the President but to hold him to account. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 51:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

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The Trump administration is clearly not staffed by angels and neither Devin Nunes nor Paul Ryan seem terribly interested in doing their jobs when it comes to “obliging [government] to control itself.” But, just for fun, let’s recap what just 2017 would have looked like had Nunes, Ryan, and McConnell chosen Country over Party and held the White House to account in the same way they might have had a Democrat won in 2016 [alternate history in italics].

February 2017: Michael Flynn resigns over Logan Act violations during the transition. Congress opens an investigation into the transition team, calling Flynn in to testify, under oath. Flynn’s testimony implicates someone else on the transition team and Congress keeps digging either rooting out Russian corruption back in 2017 or setting the matter to rest then.

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We could have just picked the alternate reality where Donald Trump is not President but nooooooooooooooo….. (Photo by Elijah O’Donell)

May 2017: Trump fires James Comey. Following Comey’s testimony before Congress, Robert Mueller is named Independent Counsel [Ed: Independent here meaning not beholden to the Justice Department and thus not able to be dismissed by the President or those who report to him] and charged, by Congress, with an examination of Russian election interference, obstruction of justice, and the Flynn affair. Totally independent of the executive branch, Mueller needs not fear political reprisal from the White House for his findings.

September 2017: Tom Price is forced out of Health and Human Services after it became clear he spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on private air travel. Congress opens an investigation into travel and especially high-level expenditure in the Trump administration, eventually sweeping up Scott Pruitt before his corruption at the EPA reaches Captain Planet levels of cartoonish malfeasance.

October 2017: George Papadopoulos pleads guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government while working with the Trump campaign. The ongoing Congressional Russia investigation doubles down on an already protracted fight with the White House over Congress’ ability to subpoena the executive branch. Papadopoulos, unable to claim executive privilege eventually agrees to testify. Over the next few months a veritable who’s-who of former Trump campaign and administration officials are compelled to testify before Congress.

That’s what 2017 should have looked like without the Republican majority Nunes is so interested in defending. Instead, it was one example after another of the breathtaking corruption of the Trump Administration and the complete complacency of the Republican Congress. If we are to “oblige [government] to control itself” there are going to have to be some changes on Capitol Hill.

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