I bet you are more than a little relieved that President Trump lost. His erratic, outrageous conduct and refusal to operate in the real world no doubt caused you no small amount of embarrassment and pain. Aside from Sen. Romney, the rest of you no doubt received criticism from your Democratic colleagues for remaining mute and/or enabling Trump. Your votes to acquit him in impeachment were the low point in your careers. Nevertheless, you have the opportunity to help the country and the party recover from a pandemic, recession and political nightmare.
No one expects you will vote to raise taxes — although consider what trade-offs a package might include — or support the most progressive policy initiatives Democrats can dream up. That said, you know our voting system needs repair and uniformity, our infrastructure needs updating, broadband connection is essential for rural America and policies that address climate change can also create jobs. You know that our country needs and the president-elect deserves up-or-down votes on his executive and judicial appointments. (The bipartisan circus of not allowing the confirmation of judges nominated by the other party’s president must end.) You all know President-elect Joe Biden and should offer an open hand when he approaches with policies that are reasonable. You can rediscover the arts of horse-trading and compromise.
You have every reason to pursue executive-branch reforms that would actually constrain the Democratic president while rebuilding guardrails Trump tore down. All presidents should be required by law to provide their tax returns and to allow doctors to speak candidly about their health with open access to relevant medical records. Executive-branch employees should be prohibited from owning individual stocks. The Office of Government Ethics must be upgraded and penalties must be created to enforce the Hatch Act. Inspectors general need funding and clear jurisdiction (e.g., to investigate the attorney general). There should be a new, quick and enforceable process for congressional subpoenas and department heads who refuse to comply should face civil penalties. The White House must limit and report on contacts with the Justice Department on individual enforcement and prosecution matters. The president’s “emergency” powers should be excised from the statute books where appropriate.
Just as important, it is time to stop indulging the cranks, the conspiracy-mongers and the out-and-out liars in right-wing media and in your own caucus. Call out silly and baseless smears; insist on factual rigor at hearings. Denounce further attempts to call into question the 2020 election results. It is not enough to run from the cameras when you are queried about Republicans’ lies. It is your obligation to keep the party and the public rooted in reality.
Surely you do not want your first and last line in the history books to be, “The senator enabled a corrupt and unhinged president.” Take a page from the records of Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who worked diligently with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on a raft of domestic legislation, and from the late Sen. John McCain, who defended human rights, sought to reform the Pentagon, backed climate-change legislation and was a leader on immigration. (Speaking of which, you all can come up with a reasonable legislative solution for Dreamers and, more generally, a reasonable package of border control and rules for a path to citizenship for millions of others.) You know there are systemic problems with policing that can be addressed, at least in part, at the federal level.
Biden’s election gives you a chance to do what you came to D.C. to accomplish — solve problems and make the United States a better place. You have an obligation to do just that.
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