What hap­pens to Trump­ism now?

Porterville Recorder - - OPINION - Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by email at steve­cokie@gmail.com.

Now that Democrats have won the House ma­jor­ity by a slim mar­gin, what hap­pens next? Their power to shape leg­is­la­tion will be lim­ited, but that’s not the whole story.

Democrats now take over the chair­man­ship of ev­ery House com­mit­tee, and that means more money to hire staff and con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tions; more power to hold hear­ings, sum­mon wit­nesses, ask ques­tions and de­mand an­swers. The sin­gle most im­por­tant change can be summed up in one word: sub­poena.

Thanks to a rule passed by House Repub­li­cans, com­mit­tee chairs can is­sue sub­poe­nas with­out con­sult­ing mi­nor­ity mem­bers. And for months, Demo­cratic lead­ers have been as­sem­bling a list of tar­gets, just in case they took com­mand.

It’s ex­tremely im­por­tant for Democrats to han­dle their new power care­fully and re­spon­si­bly, oth­er­wise it could blow up in their face and hand Trump a prime is­sue. For­mer Demo­cratic con­gress­man Henry Wax­man, who ran the Over­sight Com­mit­tee when his party last con­trolled the House, stressed that point in a pre-elec­tion in­ter­view with the Wash­ing­ton Post.

“Any in­ves­ti­ga­tion that looks like it’s just a po­lit­i­cal witch hunt or for par­ti­san pur­poses will not be cred­i­ble,” he warned. “If sub­poe­nas are is­sued wildly and it’s not clear what they’re get­ting at, I think the Democrats would open them­selves to at­tacks from Pres­i­dent Trump.”

The pres­i­dent sharp­ened that threat, warn­ing Democrats that the Se­nate could in­ves­ti­gate them for leak­ing clas­si­fied ma­te­rial. “Two can play that game!” he tweeted.

Still, at the top of the Demo­cratic list are Trump’s tax re­turns, which he has re­fused to re­lease in de­fi­ance of long-stand­ing prac­tice by pres­i­dents of both par­ties. The White House would al­most cer­tainly re­sist the Democrats’ re­quest, but the re­sult­ing court bat­tle would only re­in­force a ring­ing bat­tle cry for the next cam­paign: “What Does He Have to Hide?”

An­other key tar­get: records re­lat­ing to Trump fam­ily busi­ness deal­ings with Rus­sian oli­garchs. Rep. Adam Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia, due to be­come chair­man of the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, wrote in the Post: “There are se­ri­ous and cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions the Rus­sians may pos­sess fi­nan­cial lever­age over the pres­i­dent, in­clud­ing per­haps the laun­der­ing of Rus­sian money through his busi­nesses. It would be neg­li­gent to our na­tional se­cu­rity not to find out.”

Wax­man sug­gests Democrats fo­cus on a crit­i­cally im­por­tant is­sue that has gone largely un­no­ticed in a cap­i­tal con­sumed by daily tweets and tem­pests: Trump’s cam­paign to over­turn reg­u­la­tions of all sorts. He’s gone af­ter reg­u­la­tions that pro­tect con­sumers from fraud, vot­ers from dis­crim­i­na­tion, pub­lic lands from ex­ploita­tion and rare wildlife from ex­tinc­tion.

As Wax­man told the Post, this over­sight “will draw at­ten­tion to the fail­ure of peo­ple in this ad­min­is­tra­tion to en­force the laws that are on the books, which have very le­git­i­mate and es­sen­tial pur­poses be­hind them.”

The most in­flam­ma­tory is­sue, of course, is im­peach­ment, and left-wing red-hots are al­ready de­mand­ing the pres­i­dent’s head. But at least for now, the case for re­mov­ing Trump is pretty weak.

That could change once spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller is­sues his re­port, es­pe­cially if he ac­cuses the pres­i­dent of ob­struct­ing jus­tice. But as Repub­li­cans learned when they tried and failed to re­move Bill Clin­ton from of­fice, vot­ers do not look kindly on politi­cians who seek to over­turn the re­sults of an elec­tion, un­less the ev­i­dence is air­tight and over­whelm­ing.

On the leg­isla­tive front, the most likely out­come of the elec­tion is even more paral­y­sis, but a few ar­eas of agree­ment are pos­si­ble. One is an in­fra­struc­ture bill, since law­mak­ers from both par­ties love to spend money and don’t seem the least bit con­cerned about the deficit.

Two other is­sues com­manded some bi­par­ti­san sup­port in the last Congress, and could re­turn to the agenda in Jan­uary: a mea­sure to pro­tect Mueller from be­ing fired by the pres­i­dent, and le­gal sta­tus for young im­mi­grants who came to this coun­try as chil­dren but re­main un­doc­u­mented.

The sin­gle most im­por­tant re­sult of the elec­tion, how­ever, might be sym­bolic. Trump him­self said, “In a cer­tain way, I am on the bal­lot.” And in a cer­tain way, the man who prizes win­ning above all else clearly lost.

The Democrats’ vic­tory was a vote of no­con­fi­dence in the pres­i­dent, a re­pu­di­a­tion of a cam­paign laced with fear and false­hoods and a deep dent in his myth of in­vin­ci­bil­ity as his 2020 re-elec­tion cam­paign be­gins. “One elec­tion won’t elim­i­nate racism, sex­ism or ho­mo­pho­bia,” Barack Obama noted on elec­tion eve, “but it will be a start.”

Trump­ism, in all its in­sid­i­ous and in­cen­di­ary forms, has dom­i­nated our pub­lic life for too long. The elec­tions this week could mark the be­gin­ning of its de­cline.

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