As House con­trol shifts, Democrats weigh their next moves

Porterville Recorder - - OPINION - Don­ald Lam­bro has been cov­er­ing Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics for more than 50 years as a re­porter, edi­tor and com­men­ta­tor.

When Democrats took con­trol of the House in Tues­day’s midterm elec­tions, two things were cer­tain: Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­main­ing leg­isla­tive agenda is dead, and the cham­ber’s Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee is ready to com­bat any White House at­tempt to med­dle in or ob­struct spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Few, if any, House Democrats were pub­licly us­ing the “I” word af­ter the Repub­li­cans’ dev­as­tat­ing po­lit­i­cal losses in what the Found­ing Fa­thers called “the peo­ple’s house.” But the threat of im­peach­ment was on the minds of many Democrats af­ter Trump fired At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions on Wed­nes­day and ap­pointed Matthew Whi­taker as act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral. Whi­taker was Ses­sions’ chief of staff and has been sharply crit­i­cal of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

A le­gal pol­icy com­men­ta­tor be­fore he joined the Jus­tice Depart­ment, Whi­taker has pub­licly mused how Ses­sions’ re­place­ment might shrink Mueller’s bud­get “so low that his in­ves­ti­ga­tion grinds to al­most a halt.”

In a col­umn he wrote in Au­gust 2017, Whi­taker said that Mueller had “come up to a red line in the Rus­sia 2016 elec­tion-med­dling in­ves­ti­ga­tion that he is dan­ger­ously close to cross­ing.”

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported Wed­nes­day that “Trump has told ad­vis­ers that Whi­taker is loyal and would not have re­cused him­self from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, cur­rent and for­mer White House of­fi­cials said.”

More im­por­tant for the pres­i­dent, Whi­taker “would as­sume fi­nal de­ci­sion-mak­ing au­thor­ity over the spe­cial coun­sel probe in­stead of Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod J. Rosen­stein,” the Post said.

Rosen­stein has, un­til now, over­seen the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and given Mueller the sup­port he needs. That ap­pears to be com­ing to an end now that Whi­taker has en­tirely taken over that role.

Trump had no sooner an­nounced that Whi­taker was in charge at Jus­tice than rank-and-file House Democrats be­gan set­ting off alarm bells, say­ing that it was a clear at­tempt to shackle Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Congress must now in­ves­ti­gate the real rea­son for this ter­mi­na­tion, con­firm that ... Whi­taker is re­cused from all as­pects of the spe­cial coun­sel’s probe, and en­sure that the Depart­ment of Jus­tice safe­guards the in­tegrity of the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” said Rep. Eli­jah E. Cum­mings of Mary­land, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee.

But that was not the view of Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mccon­nell, who on Wed­nes­day warned House Democrats that any in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the pres­i­dent by their new ma­jor­ity in the en­su­ing two years “might not be smart strat­egy.”

“The whole is­sue of pres­i­den­tial ha­rass­ment is in­ter­est­ing,” Mccon­nell told re­porters, when asked what Se­nate Repub­li­cans would do if Democrats at­tempted to ob­tain Trump’s tax re­turns.

“I re­mem­ber when we tried it in the late ‘90s. We im­peached Pres­i­dent Clin­ton. His num­bers went up and ours went down, and we un­der­per­formed in the next elec­tion,” he said. “So the Democrats in the House will have to de­cide just how much pres­i­den­tial ha­rass­ment they think is a good strat­egy. I’m not so sure it’ll work for them.”

The cagey Ken­tucky law­maker cau­tioned that he was sim­ply mak­ing a “his­tor­i­cal ob­ser­va­tion” that when the GOP launched its im­peach­ment in­quiry into Bill Clin­ton’s sex­ual es­capades, “it im­proved the pres­i­dent’s ap­proval rat­ing and tanked ours.”

Nev­er­the­less, I’m sure that more than one Demo­cratic law­maker this week was look­ing up Ar­ti­cle 1, Sec­tion 2, Clause 5 in the Con­sti­tu­tion, which says, “The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives shall [choose] their Speaker and other Of­fi­cers, and shall have the sole Power of Im­peach­ment.”

In a lit­tle less than two months, the Democrats will be in charge of the House, Nancy Pelosi will be speaker and wield­ing a heavy gavel, and Trump will still be their arch­en­emy.

“There is no mis­tak­ing what this means, and what is at stake: This is a con­sti­tu­tion­ally per­ilous mo­ment for our coun­try and for the pres­i­dent,” Rep. Jer­rold Nadler of New York said in a state­ment. He’s set to be­come the chair­man of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, which would con­duct any im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings, if it comes to that.

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