From left: Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D.-Fla.), Rep. Joaquin Castro (D.-Tex.), Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) and Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D.-Tex.) speak to the media after touring the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Migrant Children facility in Homestead, Florida, Tuesday. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Opinion writer

Voters delivered an unequivocal message in the midterm election: A Democratic House majority must exercise oversight to check an out-of-control president. This week, that’s precisely what they did.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) on Friday introduced a resolution to short-circuit President Trump’s fraudulent declaration of emergency. The Texas congressman knows there is no border “crisis,” and frequently notes that border crossings have declined precipitously over the last decade or so. Castro tweeted an invitation asking Democrats and Republicans alike to “support this joint resolution to terminate President Trump’s unconstitutional national emergency declaration to build his border wall. It sets a dangerous precedent and steals congressional authority.” In restating the principles of separation of powers and calling out Trump’s affront to the Constitution, he and fellow Democrats demonstrated their faithfulness to their oaths of office.

Democrats also acted to pressure Attorney General William P. Barr to release the full report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (which we learned would not be completed this week). In a letter to the AG, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), Committee on Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) and Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.). wrote:

After nearly two years of investigation — accompanied by two years of direct attacks on the integrity of the investigation by the President — the public is entitled to know what the Special Counsel has found. We write to you to express, in the strongest possible terms, our expectation that the Department of Justice will release to the public the report Special Counsel Mueller submits to you — without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law. 

There also remains a significant public interest in the full disclosure of information learned by the Special Counsel about the nature and scope of the Russian government’s efforts to undermine our democracy . . . .

If the Special Counsel has reason to believe that the President has engaged in criminal or other serious misconduct, then the President must be subject to accountability either in a court or to the Congress. But because the Department has taken the position that a sitting President is immune from indictment and prosecution, Congress could be the only institution currently situated to act on evidence of the President’s misconduct. To maintain that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and then to withhold evidence of wrongdoing from Congress because the President will not be charged, is to convert Department policy into the means for a cover-up. The President is not above the law.

This seems to lay the groundwork for the same process we saw during Watergate, when the special counsel, Leon Jarworski, made a referral to Congress with material needed to proceed with impeachment.

Finally, on Tuesday, Cummings announced that Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, will testify publicly on Feb. 27. So as not to intrude on Mueller’s work, Cohen will not talk about matters relating to the Russia probe. However, Cummings said that Cohen will testify about “the President’s debts and payments relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election; the President’s compliance with financial disclosure requirements; the President’s compliance with campaign finance laws; the President’s compliance with tax laws; the President’s potential and actual conflicts of interest; the President’s business practices; the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.; the accuracy of the President’s public statements; potentially fraudulent or inappropriate practices by the Trump Foundation; and public efforts by the President and his attorney to intimidate Mr. Cohen or others not to testify.” Cohen will testify behind closed doors before the Intelligence Committee on Feb. 28.

In sum, through legislation, public pressure and oversight, House Democrats are attempting to prevent Trump’s unconstitutional power grab, assure the greatest transparency possible regarding the Russia probe, and hold Trump accountable for his lies and misdeeds. This is how the system is supposed to operate, and what House Republicans utterly failed to do in the first two years of the Trump administration, in dereliction of their oaths of office. For returning us to some semblance of constitutional order, we can say, well done ladies and gentlemen of the Democratic House majority.

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