Since the Democrats won the majority in the House, flipped at least seven governorships and won back majorities in multiple statehouses, President Trump has been on a tear. He:
- abused the media and violated the First Amendment by taking away Jim Acosta’s press credentials (while Trump’s press secretary sent around a doctored video, in true Stalinist fashion);
- threatened to investigate the House if the House does its oversight job;
- alleged, without any evidence, “Election Fraud” in two Florida counties, suggesting that he’d use “law enforcement” to secure a GOP win in the Senate race there”;
- unconstitutionally appointed a vocal critic of the Russia probe, Matthew Whitaker, as acting attorney general; and
- unilaterally plans to amend our asylum laws.
In case you thought Trump was going to straighten up, constitutionally speaking, after losing the protection of House Republicans, think again. Like a wounded animal, he is lashing out at the press, immigrants and Democrats. Is he “getting away with it” again? Not really.
For starters, retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) tweeted:
In support of that, Republicans for the Rule of Law released this video:
Trump’s actions will continue to provoke division among Republicans, forcing some to criticize him and others to embarrass themselves by remaining mute. In the former category, Sen.-elect Mitt Romney (R-Utah) tweeted, “Under Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, it is imperative that the important work of the Justice Department continues, and that the Mueller investigation proceeds to its conclusion unimpeded.”
In addition, the courts will be there to check Trump, as we saw in the latest ruling disallowing him from discontinuing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). With regard to the new acting attorney general, lawsuits will fly challenging virtually any action he takes. George Conway (Kellyanne’s husband and a Federalist Society lawyer) and Neal Katyal explain, “Mr. Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid.”)
Some of Trump’s threats are patently ridiculous. He’s really going to get the GOP Senate to investigate the House for conducting oversight that Republicans failed to do? Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said, “I’m not sure Mr. Trump understands that we’re independent branches of government. And that the legislative branch was set up to be an appropriate check and balance on an executive.” Laughing at the president’s most outlandish ideas is a fine retort, an underutilized tactic against a president with a jumbo ego.
In Florida, as in other states, voting is largely a state responsibility. Lawyers are descending on Florida in a echo of the 2000 election. Gov. Rick Scott is irresponsibly alleging fraud, but ultimately local officials and the courts will determine the result.
Back inside the Beltway, House Democrats will have the power to hold hearings, subpoena witnesses and documents, and hold non-complying witnesses in contempt. Shining a light on the administration’s skullduggery will strengthen the hand of those resisting improper order and give underlings pause about cooperating. Moreover, the House will slowly build the case for removing — by election in 2020, most likely — Trump and his Senate enablers. That worked well in the midterms, and a campaign built around the inarguable proposition that Trump is abusing his power may help reassemble a winning coalition for Democrats.
The Trump resistance, including groups such as Nobody Is Above the Law, also continue to protest peacefully, both laying down a marker in defense of democratic norms and keeping their own voters engaged and enthusiastic. Trump remains the Democrats’ best organizing tool.
What is not, in all likelihood, going to be possible is to impeach and remove Trump. The Senate will remain in GOP hands, making removal (requiring a two-thirds majority) almost inconceivable. Impeaching without removing Trump undoubtedly would fire up his cult and provide weird vindication. Better to investigate, embarrass and — after he leaves office — prosecute him for any crimes (e.g. obstruction of justice) taken in office.