A group of newly elected incoming House Democrats sent a letter to the party leadership this week. Among their demands: prioritizing legislation concerning health care, infrastructure, gun safety, the environment and other worthy causes over looking into President Trump and his administration’s corruption. “We are united in the belief that we have a mandate to debate, draft, and work across the aisle to pass legislation,” they wrote.
The sentiments are admirable, but mistaken. That’s not just because it’s hard to imagine anything bipartisan is going to go anywhere in the current environment, one where the president and congressional Republicans are intent on rolling back decades of regulation and custom. It’s also because there’s a bigger issue: No one, and I mean no one, thinks corruption is a good thing.
Yes, health-care coverage and costs were major concerns for voters in the recent elections. But numerous polls also discovered voters are extremely concerned about the Washington cesspool. Trump got elected on a promise to drain the swamp, but there’s more and more evidence that Trump views the presidency as a just-in-time money-making opportunity, with everyone from Saudi princes to Republican operatives and domestic industry players suddenly discovering the delights of holding events and booking rooms at Trump Organization properties. When Trump speaks about his trust in Russian President Vladimir Putin or Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his utterances all but sound like a hostage video.
Moreover, questions of Trump-enabled corruption and good governance are hardly unrelated. The Department of Veterans Affairs might be a good place to start. The Government Accountability Office is currently looking into whether three Mar-a-Lago members — including Ike Perlmutter, chairman of Marvel Entertainment — exerted influence over a VA revamp of electronic health-care records.
Or perhaps Congress can turn to its attention to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where Senate Republicans voted Thursday to confirm the superbly unqualified Kathy Kraninger to the top job. Over the past year, according to a report released last week by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), temporary head Mick Mulvaney “has used his position at the Consumer Protection Bureau to do favors for corporate special interests, rather than look out for the American people he’s supposed to serve.” While in Congress, Mulvaney has said he did not meet with corporate lobbyists unless they made a contribution to his coffers.
And then of course, there is the matter of Trump’s missing tax returns and how much he might have benefited from last year’s tax reform package, the one that saw the majority of voters receiving a few sunsetting financial crumbs, while millionaire and billionaires received permanent significant cuts. Polls show a solid majority of us want Congress to use its authority to get hold of and release Trump’s tax returns to the public.
In fact, the grossness in Trump’s Cabinet and administration picks seems to have no end. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has reportedly had questionable business dealings involving the current president of energy behemoth Halliburton — which just happens to have business with the Interior Department. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is alleged to have ripped off business partners, and failed to sell off investments as required by law. The Miami Herald reports Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, while serving as a U.S. attorney a decade ago, likely played a role in arranging a plea deal that allowed multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein to spend a little more than a year in jail on minor charges when copious evidence existed that he had abused multitudes of underage teens.
The counterargument to why Democrats should pursue legislation and bipartisanship is that way back in 1998, congressional Republicans allowed the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal to take over their agenda. But this is a fallacious argument. The Clinton impeachment ultimately revolved around a lie about sex. Trump’s alleged corruption is significant, and quite possibly damaging American national interests. As Jeff Hauser, founder and director of the Revolving Door Project, puts it, “If this was about all committees should do investigations into Stormy Daniels related oversight, yes, that’s overreach. But if you are looking into whether American policy in the Middle East is driven by foreign emoluments to Donald Trump or payments to Jared Kushner, that’s extremely relevant.”
It’s hard to imagine Americans won’t care about that. Left unchecked, corruption undermines faith in government and society. It implicates everyone it touches. If Democrats decide to let this go, it’s quite possible that voters will think they were once again had by politicians. On a pragmatic level, that’s not a recommended path to reelection. On a national level, the results could be devastating.
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