While many progressives and others are either still in shock about the presidential election results or still arguing with Trump supporters (or other progressives) about what went wrong during the election, Trump and the Republican Congress are consolidating what is shaping up to be one of the most conservative administrations since the Great Depression.
The Republican Senate scheduled six simultaneous hearings on Cabinet nominees. Conveniently (for them), the hearings were scheduled to coincide with 1) President Obama’s farewell address; 2) Trump’s first press conference since July; and 3) a vote on the budget for the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).
The scheduling of the hearings, in conflict with each other as well as with the other events mentioned above, effectively prevents any concentrated media coverage or protests at the hearings. The scheduling strategy appears to mimic a tactic that was routinely utilized during the Trump campaign: If you flood the media with enough tweets, quotes and scandals, it becomes almost impossible for any one story to stick.
The scheduled hearings also are problematic because most of Trump’s nominees have failed to complete ethics questionnaires and background checks necessary for the process to move forward. In 2009, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that the process be followed, but now … eh, not so much. On Sunday, he complained that Democrats should stop making “procedural complaints” and “grow up.” In response, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer simply sent McConnell a copy of McConnell’s 2009 letter, simply changing the “to” and “from” names.
The final move by Senate Republicans was a vote to raise the debt ceiling by nearly $10 trillion. To put that number in context, that’s more than a 50 percent increase over the current debt of $19 trillion, a number that Trump and conservatives have been outraged about while blaming President Obama. It remains to be seen if Tea Party activists will hold the type of rallies and protests that they have against Obama, but don’t hold your breath.
Not to be outdone in regards to deplorable legislative action, the Republican House also has been quite busy. Here’s a partial list of actions they’ve taken which do absolutely nothing to advance the interests of the white working-class voters they claim to champion:
- House Republicans reinstated the Holman rule allowing them to reduce a federal employee’s salary to $1, effectively firing them by amendment to any piece of legislation. Consistent with conservative efforts to turn the clock back, the arcane rule was first introduced in 1876. This vote is particularly menacing given Trump’s efforts to get the names and positions of employees in the Departments of Energy and State who have been researching or working in some way on issues related to climate change. However, the rule could be used in almost any federal department for almost any reason.
- House Republicans passed a regulation expressly forbidding the Congressional Budget Office from reporting or tracking any costs related to the repeal of the ACA. Essentially, Trump and the GOP know that repealing Obamacare is going to decrease revenues, raise expenses and greatly expand the national debt, but they don’t want the rest of the country to know that.
- House Republicans passed the REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny), giving them veto power over any rules enacted by any federal agency or department. For example, if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bans pesticides or passes a regulation regarding the monitoring of water in a city like Flint, Congress can overrule for whatever reason it chooses.
- And finally, as widely reported last week, House Republicans voted to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics. Their effort was eventually retracted, but only due to the amount of protest and opposition coming from voters of all persuasions after the story was first publicized.
And while the Republican Congress has been engaging in all types of shenanigans, what has Trump been up to? Largely, he’s been dancing around a wide range of conflict-of-interest issues related to both his domestic and international businesses. In addition, he’s been continuing his battle with the U.S. intelligence community as more and more information becomes available about Russian efforts to interfere with the election and, perhaps more important, news that the Russians may have embarrassing information, audio and video of Trump that they’re able to hold over his head.
But in spite of those controversies, Trump has still found time to start addressing his signature campaign promise: the “great wall” that he plans to build on the U.S.-Mexico border. And who’s going to pay for that wall? The U.S. taxpayers! Trump is now asking that Congress pay for the wall but is still promising that Mexico will ultimately pay via reimbursement. In other words, his plan to finance the wall is basically the same as that time your cousin asked you to dish out the down payment on that car he wanted.
The final twist of the knife is that Trump has ordered that all Obama-appointed ambassadors and special envoys leave their embassies by inauguration day. Because there’s no better way to “make America great again” than by having its overseas posts without representation as the slate of new ambassadors wait for their appointments to be finalized.