America’s Feckless Congress
During an interview with Representative Ted Yoho of Florida, news anchor Craig Melvin of MSNBC asks Rep. Yoho the following:
“Are you concerned at all that he [Rep. Devin Nunes, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee] was viewing what he said was classified information at the White House and then reported it back to the White House?”
Rep. Yoho responds…
“You gotta keep in mind who he works for, he works for the President, he answers to the President,”
Melvin jumps in…
“Does he? or does he work for the constituents of his district?”
“Well, you do both, but when your in that capacity, if you’ve got information, I am ok with what he did.”
After this exchange, a spokesmen for Rep. Yoho says the Congressman misspoke and attempted to walk back the statement, agreeing with the fact that Representatives work for their constituents and not the President. I think that the Representative knew exactly what he was saying and I believe it to be a message that has been pushed by Congressional Leadership and the media for decades, that in truth Congress is simply a means for the President to push his or her agenda through Government. I see this conversation between Yoho and Melvin foreshadowing a growing problem in the American polity.
Before I begin, let me preface and clarify that the oracular nature of my argument is grounded in hesitation, as I am more than aware of the very real possibility that I am wrong. I hold in high regard Socrates when he said:
“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”
On February 8th, 1788, an article was submitted to the New York Packet, a New York newspaper of the time, written under the pseudonym Publius, but later found to be authored by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. The article was a part of a larger series of essays and articles entitled The Federalist Papers, in which Hamilton, Madison, and John Jay, propose arguments for the ratification of the Constitution of the United States. The Federalist Papers have become the go to exposition for the motives of the Founding Fathers.
In the article written on February 8th (Federalist Paper 51), Hamilton and Madison give us their reasoning for and against the concept of checks and balances, as well as the separation of powers described in the Constitution. They argue:
“In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others”
“It is equally evident, that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others”
In summation, they argue that in order to preserve the liberty of the people, Congress should act separate from the Executive and remain as independent as possible from the will of the other branches.
Simply put, the design of the Constitution is like playing the game “King of the Hill” on a middle school playground. Each branch, or kid in this case, has great incentive to climb to the top of the pile and claim more power. However, when the tall 5th grader, Congress, reaches the top and declares himself king, the two young guns, Executive and Judicial, climb up and throw him down to the bottom and then fight each other for the top spot. It is this power struggle that preserves the liberty of the people.
What happens though, when Congress decides to not play the game? What if Congress voluntarily forfeits their right to be the King of the Hill? What if Congress encourages the Executive to take action because Congress is plagued with partisan gridlock and overall fecklessness?
This is where I believe Rep. Yoho’s statement to be most troubling. The willful abandonment of any sort of of Congressional oversight leaves the President with an unhealthy increase in power. It creates a culture in which the American people look at the decades long cowardice and incompetence of Congress and instead turn to so called “strong men” in order to see their political wishes done (proper summation of 2016 election?), whether it was President Obama’s executive order providing amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants or President Trump’s more recent executive order trying to ban people of some muslim-majority countries from being able to emigrate to the United States.
At the end of the day, it is the job of Congress to provide oversight on the actions of the President and his executive. Unfortunately, my natural instinct for cynicism will most likely overcome my penchant for optimism and idealism. With the scandal surrounding our current President’s multiple connections to the Russian government, and the measures taken so far by Rep. Nunes, whose actions Rep. Yoho was referring to in the interview on MSNBC, I do not see House Intelligence Committee Chairman or Congress in general, providing the proper oversight and investigation. Republicans led by Paul Ryan will refrain from taking any action in favor of attempting to legislate tax breaks for rich people and the Democrats will, much to my chagrin, turn this into partisan nonsense.
Playing the prediction game, much like betting at a casino, is ultimately a useless enterprise. The true test of current power dilemmas and the health of the American System of Government, will play out in the coming months and years. We have seen the judicial branch play the king of the hill game by stopping President Trump’s executive order regarding muslim immigration. Opponents will argue the liberal obstructionist justices are playing partisan politics, but it seems more likely that the courts (judicial branch) are just trying to reign in what they see as unconstitutional. They are playing the game. It is time for Congress to get off the bench and play too.