A REASSERTION OF POWER
The principled cause and how Congress musn’t shy away.
The policy of the Justice Department is not to indict a sitting president. This is according to a legal memo created in the wake of Watergate and reaffirmed in 2000, stating essentially that any indictment would generally be viewed as unconstitutional, violating the separation of powers between the branches of government. Robert Dixon, the drafter of the original 1973 memo, wrote “The spectacle of an indicted President still trying to serve as Chief Executive boggles the imagination.”
There has been some controversy over this policy in recent months due to the bombshell release of Bob Mueller’s special counsel report, detailing extensive attempts at collusion, conspiracy, and obstruction by Donald Trump, the current sitting president. Thorny issues have resulted in whether its practical or right for Congress to pursue impeachment, how the Justice Department handles investigating its superiors, and why are vaunted system of governing may finally be showing its cracks after years of inefficacy.
Nonetheless, the fundamental issue — impeachment — inevitably rests on the relationship that exists between the executive and legislative branches of government. This relationship has been rocky since the country’s founding, but most would agree Congress has a history of abdicating much of its power to the executive branch. Most would argue that since World War II, Congress’ influence has waned in favor of a monarchial presidency. Whether it’s in waging war, creating policy, or skirting oversight, the executive branch has grown far stronger in recent decades, and due to how our system is set up, a branch of government can’t grow stronger without siphoning power from somewhere else— in this case, Congress.
The question than becomes whether or not Congress has entirely lost its ability to reassert its power. Days after her second time becoming Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi was asked in an interview whether or not she views herself has Trump’s equal. She promptly responded, “The Constitution does.” A welcome view when compared to history and she may be right. However, that also depends on what your definition of “co-equal” means. Republican Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio, in a discussion on CNN and written about in the Washington Examiner, said of Pelosi that, “She needs to come to some recognition that she’s not equal to the president of the United States.”
Others argue that what “co-equal” actually means is dominant. Jay Cost, writing for The National Review, says, “Congress is not coequal. It is superior. The notion of coequality of the branches is a myth that has been popularized over the past half century, during the rise of the imperial presidency, as a way to boost the executive’s standing in the eyes of the public.” I think most people would agree that if enough moral clarity existed within Congress to take that necessary view and test out the limits of its power granted to it by the Constitution, this would be a heartening step.
Part of me thinks though that in spite of what our legislative members would have you believe, Congress thoroughly enjoys its position as the martyr. This gives its members someone they can blame, a receptacle for finger pointing and a reason to skirt responsibility. It’s way easier for members to blame a de facto “king” than for them to take ownership themselves. This mentality is cowardly, and both parties are guilty of this. It’s happening now with Trump. It happened during Barack Obama’s time. It happened during both George Bush and Bill Clinton’s time in office. What most members don’t realize or care about is that this politically expedient view has long term, damaging effects. It consolidates too much power within one person, and it fights against the very values of Democracy.
If the Democrats want to truly hold power to account, they must not only believe in the inherent equality that exists between Congress and the presidency, but they must also reclaim what the Founders originally intended Congress to be. My personal view is that in order for them to truly reassert themselves, this process must begin with impeachment.
Michelle Obama once remarked, “When they go low, we go high.” These words implored the Democrats to face corruption and immorality with goodness. This was in the wake of the 2016 election. These words aimed to bring out our best qualities to face down the callousness of indecent men, and as history knows, we failed.
I think a lot about why we failed, and a lot has been said about why we failed. Some chalk it up to racism; others mark it as economic anxiety and still others blame our candidate. These people are missing the point. We are the ones responsible for our votes. We haven’t been tricked, hoodwinked, or scammed. The media would have you think that our electorate is a bunch of dolts that only require a bit of stage magic for any one candidate to secure their vote. They are lying to you. The opposite is true.
We, as voters, are willing participants in the political process, and as the old saying goes, we get the candidates we deserve. No politician has power without us. No law can be enacted without our tacit approval. Every other November we walk into that booth than walk out a different person, one who made a choice in the direction of our country. The onus lies on you and on me, as the ultimate political pilot. Furthermore, it’s easy to forget that our closest, most poignant way to send a message to the people in power is through Congress. This is the branch that is closest in proximity to the people, and it’s the branch that has arguably been granted the most power under the Constitution. Everything, every law, begins in Congress.
Jay Cost continues, in The National Review, saying, “It reveals the fact that our country has forgotten essential aspects of American republicanism — above all, the full meaning of self-government. We do not need a president to govern us. We govern ourselves, primarily though Congress. That is what the Founders envisioned, and it is why Congress is the supreme branch of the government.”
The reason I say this is that impeachment, an unwieldy political process granted to Congress by our Constitution, is on the table once more. Over its two century history, Congress has utilized this process on multiple occasions, often to little or no effect. This time around Mueller’s report lays it out, and it is paramount that Congress is clear-eyed about what comes next.
“The conclusion that Congress may apply obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” Mueller’s Report goes on to list all the ways in which Congress could utilize the obstruction of justice laws to curb the president and hold him to account.
And we, as the voters must send a message to Congress that this principled cause is warranted and necessary for the precedent that it would set, the reclamation of power lost, and the message it would send to further presidents, countries, and criminals down the line.
The alternative is ceding more power to the executive branch with a question forever lingering in the back of everyone’s mind, if Trump’s deeds aren’t impeachable than what actually is?
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