Staffing the Swamp

In my day job, I lead a startup. When you’re an underdog, it pays to find opportunities to apply focused, sustained pressure against an unstable situation. You want to find a boulder at the top of a hill, then lean on it.

Trump’s first 100 days are likely to bring an avalanche of policy change, but right now we’re largely waiting for the storm. Still, there is one area where the ball is very much in play: appointments.

Trump is currently announcing who he plans to hire for jobs in the White House, and who he will nominate for Cabinet positions. It is inevitable that the Executive Branch will be staffed with conservative people—elections have consequences, folks. But we are at risk of getting an Executive Branch staffed with incompetent and hateful people. This is something worth fighting.

It’s also a fight where we can make a difference. Cabinet positions must be confirmed by the Senate, where Republicans will lead by no more than three votes. So this is a great time to put pressure on Republican Senators. We have two of them right here in NC.

So, tactics: It turns out the best way to make your voice heard is to talk to congressional staffers. This is easier than you think: pick up the phone and call your Senator’s local state office. The numbers are on the internet (here are the numbers for Burr and Tillis). A human being will probably answer the phone if you call during business hours.

Here’s the plan. Every week, I’m going to call each of the state offices of both of my Senators. When I get a human on the phone, I’m going to start by saying that I appreciate that the Senator has been an independent voice. (I can say this with a straight face. Burr was a founder of BARDA. Thom Tillis is tougher to vouch for, but he was a voice of reason when compared to NC Senator Phil Berger, with whom he served in the NC General Assembly.)

Then I’m going to mention any recent announcements from the Trump Transition that are cause for concern. I’m going to say I hope the Senator will oppose to the nomination—the nominee is racist, or incompetent, or corrupt. I’m going to ask that the staffer do his best to relay this opinion to the Senator and thank him or her for taking the time to talk to me.

There is no need to get angry or combative in these calls. This isn’t a partisan message. It’s not even advocating for policy. The goal is to make the case that it’s okay for Republicans to stand up to their party leaders on issues of cronyism, corruption, racism, sexism, or violations of religious freedom.

The pressure on Republicans in Congress to fall in line with Trump is and will remain immense. In these early days, the goal is to help Republican lawmakers feel empowered to dissent.

In a party known for its ability to enforce conformity, this will be a heavy lift, but it’s worth a try. Republicans in the House are queuing up legislation to dismantle the foundations of the New Deal, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act. Taken individually, these policy changes are deeply unpopular, but the default path for Republicans will be to vote for them anyway.

But Republican Senators who have to run in purple states may come to understand that they can vote against their party and strengthen their personal brand. The chance of them making this bet increases if their constitutent feedback is overwhelmingly in favor of resisting Trump.

So let’s pick up the phone and get to work.