It’s Shit or Bust. Republicans are Tying Themselves to Trump
British Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously said that a week was a long time in politics. The saying has become one of the hoariest clichés of UK politics.
The difference in scale between UK politics and its transatlantic cousin is vast so it should be no surprise that six months is an eternity in American politics. Never Trump seems a distant memory.
On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions by a vote of 52-47. His confirmation was divisive and the vote essentially split along partisan lines.
Trump has complained that Democrats are obstructing his nominees. While it is true that Obama’s Cabinet was in place within ten days of his inauguration, it took Bill Clinton and George H W Bush until March. It is called scrutiny and is at the heart of any democratic system. When the president complains of the longest delay in history, it is just another “alternative fact”.
One of the reasons for Democratic “obstruction” is the blatant lack of vetting and competence of the Trump transition. The other is the fact that previous nominees, when faced with controversy withdrew. Finally, it is the total subservience of his party to the president that means virtually the only check is coming from the minority party.
He promised to drain the swamp but instead he just moved it into the White House
Last week Betsy DeVos - who has never taught in a public school, never attended public school, and never held elected office - appeared in front of the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions: she showed little knowledge of the public education system, she faced questions about her conflicts of interest. She did not appear to understand the Individuals with Disabilities Act and defended guns in schools under the pretence that schools needed protection from “potential grizzlies”.
It was a staggeringly bumbling performance. Yet only two Republicans voted against her nomination as Secretary of Education. Enough to force Vice President Mike Pence to cast a deciding vote but not enough to stop a disastrous choice to oversee the education of fifty million children.
Both Alan Pudzer and Wilbur Ross, Labor and Commerce nominees respectively, have admitted to employing undocumented workers. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s choice to run the White House budget office, failed to pay more than $15,000 in federal taxes for an employee. Tom Price, the nominee for Health and Human Services faces allegations that he bought stock in a healthcare companies and voted in favour of legislation that would benefit those businesses. Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin failed to disclose $100 million in assets in disclosure documents.
None of these nominees have withdrawn nor do they face any pressure to do so from either the president or the GOP. When Linda Chavez, George W Bush’s nominee for Labor Secretary, admitted employing an undocumented worker, she withdrew. Bill Clinton’s first two picks for AG withdrew for similar reasons. When Tom Daschle admitted to not paying $15,000 in federal taxes he withdrew his nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Even when faced with opposition Trump does not favour withdrawal. He promised to drain the swamp but instead he just moved it into the White House.
“What disqualified Democratic nominees apparently is not a problem for many Republican nominees,” Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, “They seem to be bulletproof when it comes to ethical issues.”
It may be that Trump’s unprecedentedly low polling ratings are encouraging his brazen behaviour rather than restraining him. He does not have a honeymoon to lose.
The majority party has rolled over. Those who once declared Never Trump are now jumping on board his agenda. They have signed their Faustian pact with the president.
When House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked about Trump’s claim that terrorist attacks were not being reported, he avoided the question. When he was asked whether he thought Trump was hurting American credibility around the world, he did not answer the question. When he was asked about Trump’s attack on James L. Robarts, the federal judge who issued a temporary freeze on Trump's travel ban, all he would say was that every president got frustrated with the judiciary.
Paul Ryan was slightly more courageous when it didn’t look like Trump was going to win the presidency.
Trump Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, has been a lone right-wing voice in condemning presidential attacks on the judiciary as “demoralising and dispiriting”. And even that was in private.
The GOP have abandoned any pretence of independence from the executive branch
In two centuries the Senate has rejected outright nine Cabinet nominations. The last time a Cabinet nominee was rejected was in 1988.
The reason why Senate Democrats are scrutinising Trump’s nominations so rigorously is because they are incompetent, ideological choices. It is also because the GOP is negligent. They were different during Obama’s two terms: the 44th president received more votes against his nominees (407) than the previous four presidents combined (353).
Betsy DeVos, Alan Pudzer, Wilbur Ross, Steven Mnuchin, Mick Mulvaney, Tom Price - on ethical grounds alone - are all inept choices. Jeff Sessions was confirmed despite allegations of racism when he was nominated by Ronald Reagan as a federal district judge in 1986. He was rejected as a judge but is supposedly fit to be in Trump’s cabinet.
When his Cabinet is confirmed, Trump will be able to boast a rare accomplishment: all his first choices were nominated. It is a boast but one that demeans the idea of separation of powers.
The GOP have abandoned any pretence of independence from the executive branch. His cabinet is their cabinet. They will lose any reputation they have for decency but also for competence by carelessly nodding through Trump’s choices.
He was elected with a smaller percentage of the vote than any other Republican presidential winner. However, his low popularity does not extend to his fanatical base. If Republicans in Congress oppose the president now, they’ll face a Trumpist primary challenge as they face re-election in 2018. Their cowardice now reveals their previous courage as opportunistic.
It may be that Trump confounds expectations and becomes an effective leader. The more likely option by far is that he will fail. If he does, he is going to drag the Republican party down with him. And the thing is, they’ll deserve it.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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