Democrats now have power to hold Trump ac­count­able

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Eu­gene Robinson Colum­nist

In mob movies they call it “go­ing to the mat­tresses” — get­ting ready for war.

One day af­ter vot­ers put an end to un­ac­count­able, strong­man-style, one-party rule in Wash­ing­ton, Trump moved to cover his flank. He shoved out At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions and in­stalled a re­place­ment, Matt Whi­taker, who has pub­licly warned spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller to stay away from Trump fam­ily busi­ness deal­ings. The sud­den switch was clear proof of who was the big win­ner in Tues­day’s elec­tion — and who was the big loser.

Trump un­der­stands power. He knows now that the re­sis­tance has a lot of it.

Pay no at­ten­tion to any­one who whines that “well, yes, the Democrats did man­age to take the House, but they didn’t ... “and then goes on to be­moan Beto O’Rourke’s loss in Texas or one of the other nearmisses. A big­ger wave would have been nice, but con­trol of the House was the Big En­chi­lada of this elec­tion, and Democrats grabbed it. Trump’s life is about to change in ways he will not like.

I saw what looked like panic in that bizarre post-elec­tion news con­fer­ence Trump held Wed­nes­day. Pre­dictably, he was full of blus­ter. The results were “very close to com­plete vic­tory,” he claimed. It must have been stud­ied pro­fes­sion­al­ism that kept the as­sem­bled re­porters from burst­ing into laugh­ter.

For the first time, Democrats have the power to hold Trump ac­count­able. The next House speaker — al­most surely the cur­rent mi­nor­ity leader, Nancy Pelosi — will name a new set of com­mit­tee chair­men who can call hear­ings, com­pel tes­ti­mony and sub­poena doc­u­ments. Pelosi in­di­cated Wed­nes­day that over­sight of the ad­min­is­tra­tion will be sur­gi­cal rather than scat­ter­shot, but that it will in­deed be per­formed. She and her lead­er­ship team have been plot­ting their first steps. This will be fun to watch.

Con­sider the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee. The out­go­ing chair­man, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., did ev­ery­thing in his power to pro­tect Trump from any se­ri­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion and pos­si­ble col­lu­sion by the Trump cam­paign. The in­com­ing chair­man, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is a Har­vard Law grad­u­ate and for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor who knows how to sys­tem­at­i­cally peel away lay­ers of ob­fus­ca­tion and de­cep­tion to reach the truth.

Think of the Govern­ment Over­sight Com­mit­tee un­der the lead­er­ship of Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, D-Md., who will con­duct ac­tual over­sight of an ad­min­is­tra­tion that plays fast and loose with the rules. Think of the Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee un­der Rep. Max­ine Wa­ters, D-Calif., whom Trump de­scribes as “low-I.Q.” in racist tweets — and who is set to plumb the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s cozy re­la­tion­ship with Deutsche Bank.

Per­haps prospects like th­ese were what put Trump in such a bad mood on Wed­nes­day. He came into the news con­fer­ence ob­vi­ously de­ter­mined to pick a fight. Why else would Trump have called on CNN’s Jim Acosta, who has been the pres­i­dent’s most vis­i­ble an­tag­o­nist among the White House press corps?

“You are a rude, ter­ri­ble per­son,” Trump told Acosta, amid some back-and-forth snarling. “You shouldn’t be work­ing for CNN.”

When Yamiche Al­cin­dor of PBS in­quired whether Trump’s rhetoric might em­bolden racist white na­tion­al­ists, Trump ac­cused her of ask­ing “such a racist ques­tion.”

It was all straight from the Trump play­book: At­tack the me­dia, en­cour­age whites to feel ag­grieved, dis­play a car­toon­ish tough­ness, never give an inch. But it all seemed fran­tic and over­done, as if Trump were try­ing to con­vince him­self that he could han­dle the dif­fi­cul­ties to come.

Trump’s mas­sive in­se­cu­ri­ties were on full dis­play. He blamed Repub­li­cans who lost for re­ject­ing “the em­brace” — dis­tanc­ing them­selves from Trump in their cam­paigns be­cause of his un­pop­u­lar­ity among their con­stituents. They had voted loy­ally for Trump’s agenda, mind you, but his idea of gratitude was cruel de­ri­sion. Among those he sin­gled out was Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah: “Mia Love gave me no love. And she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

Trump made rea­son­able­sound­ing noises about work­ing with a Demo­cratic House ma­jor­ity on is­sues such as in­fra­struc­ture, health care, a mid­dle-class tax cut and en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy. But then he took it all back, say­ing that if Democrats ac­tu­ally try to per­form their con­sti­tu­tional du­ties of over­sight and ac­count­abil­ity there will be no co­op­er­a­tion on a leg­isla­tive agenda.

Just hours later, Ses­sions was gone. The bat­tle was joined.

Tues­day was a turn­ing point be­cause now the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans, who re­ject Trump and Trump­ism, have real power. The pres­i­dent acted Wed­nes­day as if he knows the sec­ond two years of his ad­min­is­tra­tion will be noth­ing like the first two years. He is right.

Eu­gene Robinson is syn­di­cated by the Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. His email ad­dress is eu­gen­er­obin­son@ wash­post.com.

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