President Trump has an obvious interest in curtailing congressional investigations into his administration, campaign, business, inaugural committee and presidential transition. He’s not really subtle about it, having spent months railing against the purported “witch hunt” he faces and, since the release of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report at the end of April, throwing up every possible roadblock to impede the probes.
Of late, he’s got a new line of attack: Democrats in the House who are leading the investigations are thereby sacrificing their ability to legislate.
During his last-minute news conference Wednesday, Trump (somewhat clumsily) made that point.
“I’ve said from the beginning — right from the beginning — that you probably can’t go down two tracks,” he said. “You can go down the investigation track, and you can go down the investment track or the track of let’s get things done for the American people.”
He added that he loves the American people.
Thursday morning, he followed that sentiment up with tweets claiming that the Democratic Party’s “heart is not into Infrastructure, lower drug prices, pre-existing conditions and our great Vets.” (The need to protect preexisting conditions, of course, is a function of the Trump administration endorsing a federal lawsuit aimed at uprooting Obamacare — and its mandate that preexisting conditions be covered.)
Then the coup de grace:
No one calls the Democrats that, of course. Trump, like Gretchen Weiners, hopes to make “THE DO NOTHING PARTY” happen.
But that’s not really the point. The point is that the argument underlying all of this — that the Democrats are investigating instead of legislating — doesn’t hold water.
The current Congress that began in January is the 116th. The one that ended that month was the 115th; it began in 2017 during Trump’s first term with unified Republican control. This year, the number of bills enacted into law during the 116th Congress trails the number that had been passed to the same point in 2017. (The data below are from GovTrack.us.)
Of course, the current Congress also trails the total number of bills enacted by the earlier Congress by a wide margin.
As we reported in January, it’s not unusual that a Congress where party control is split or differs from the White House would see fewer bills passed than in a unified Washington — though the difference isn’t necessarily dramatic.
A better guide is the last time there was a similar switch between the parties: From the first Congress in Barack Obama’s first term (the 111th) to the post-2010, post-tea party Congress that closed out his first term (the 112th). The number of laws passed to date by the current Congress is higher than in the 112th, the first Congress after Republicans regained control of the House.
Obama decided against calling Republicans the “DO NOTHING” party at that point.
You may have noticed that the number of new laws that have been enacted stalled out in April. Aha!, you may be thinking, That must be the point at which the Democrats started becoming obstinate!
But that stalling doesn’t correlate to the launch of the Democratic investigations. When Trump’s former personal attorney testified before Congress in late February, that really marked the start of the House probes in earnest. A few days later, on March 4, House committees sent out 81 letters to various individuals and organizations asking for more information. It was the beginning of the robust oversight push.
On April 18, the special counsel’s report was released. After that point, only one additional law has been added to the books. That date also marked another change: It was the point at which the White House began to refuse to comply with the House’s investigations.
The White House’s shift in approach probably isn’t linked to the number of laws being passed, but if one is looking for any correlation, that’s where it exists.
What’s more, the House is still doing things (even if those things don’t result in laws that the Republican-led Senate and Republican president will help become law).
Using ProPublica’s congressional vote data, we compiled the number of passing and failing votes in the House to this point in both the 115th and 116th Congresses. There were more votes to this point two years ago — and far more failing votes.
But notice the recent trend in the House: A steady uptick in the number of votes being taken. This even as the number of new bills being enacted remains flat.
In broad strokes, Trump’s making a slightly different argument. He’s claiming that the Democrats can either choose to work with him or they can choose to investigate him, but not both. That was the point of his decision to bail on a planned meeting at the White House on Wednesday: He wasn’t going to sit down with Democrats who were trying to dig up dirt on him.
That’s his choice, certainly. But it does raise an interesting question.
In that scenario, who’s the one doing nothing?