Not since President Richard Nixon has the Republican Party tried so hard to conceal what it is doing from the voters. It reflects widespread contempt — starting with the president — for democracy and, frankly, abject fear that these politicians will be vilified for doing things the voters find repugnant.
Daniel Coats, director of national intelligence, and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, refused to tell the Senate Intelligence Committee whether they were asked to shut down the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein declined as well, and today before the Senate Appropriations Committee he wouldn’t elaborate on how he wound up sending a memo regarding then-FBI Director James B. Comey’s handling of Hillary Clinton to the attorney general who had recused himself from all matters emanating from the 2016 election.
“I’m glad [Rosenstein] pledged not to fire [special counsel Robert S.] Mueller for anything other than a legitimate cause, but until he explains his involvement in the Comey firing, it’s hard to take too much comfort in it,” observes former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. “He’s ducking the question by citing an ongoing investigation, but this goes to his conduct, not to others the department is investigating. It goes to his fitness to hold office, and I can’t help but think that if he had a decent explanation, he would just give it.” (Democrats didn’t help matters by failing to ask key questions such as how Rosenstein is overseeing an investigation that involves a firing in which he participated.)
Meanwhile on health care, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) comes right out to say he doesn’t want voters to know what Congress is up to. (“Well I think we’re not worried so much about that as we are getting it together so we can get a majority to vote for it.”) That was the approach of House Republicans, who had no real hearings, voted before a final Congressional Budget Office score was available and rushed through a compromise bill lawmakers had barely heard about. I suppose it is refreshing to drop the pretense that Republicans care about effective health-care policy, but hiding from voters because the product is so crummy strikes us as an argument for them to lose the majority. (For all their whining about backroom deals to pass Obamacare, that was an 11-month process, with hearings galore and completed scoring.)
Then today a new low. The Hill reports:
Senate Republicans on Tuesday shocked the Capitol with a crackdown on media access that immediately drew criticism from reporters and Democrats.
Reporters were told they would no longer be allowed to film or record audio of interviews in the Senate side hallways of the Capitol without special permission.
Television reporters will now need permission from senators, the Senate Rules Committee, the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms or the Senate Radio and TV Gallery, depending on location, before conducting an on-camera interview with a senator anywhere in the Capitol or in the Senate office buildings, according to a Senate official familiar with the matter.
This is an effort to escape scrutiny, to hide from voters and to muzzle the press. We suspect the GOP will retreat, but such a move would have been unimaginable before the Trump era.
We’ve written extensively on the erosion of democratic norms under President Trump. This is certainly evidence of that disturbing trend. However, what is most striking here is the degree to which both the administration and Congress feel compelled to disguise and hide what they are going. These pols are running scared, afraid the public will see what’s going on. They’re right, insofar as the more that voters see, the less popular they become.