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The Democrats, fresh off resounding midterm election victories that validated Donald Trump's deep unpopularity, are telegraphing a plan to wield their new oversight powers on multiple fronts while going slow on impeachment. It's a brilliant strategy.
Those of us who had hoped that impeachment proceedings would begin when the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives on January 3 are bound to be disappointed. But the strategy -- which entails not going hard left, as some conservatives are claiming, but going hard at Trump -- makes sense in the context of derailing his agenda, such as it is, while pressing him on his many scandals and building on the already substantial body of evidence that he is a crook and a traitor and should be impeached.
Those multiple fronts include:
Demanding that the acting attorney general recuse himself from supervising the Russia scandal investigation and subpoenaing him if he refuses.
Subpoenaing Trump's tax returns, which are likely to show multiple ties to Russian companies and other interests that he has long tried to keep secret.
Investigating whether Trump has used the power of the presidency to punish companies associated with CNN, The Washington Post and other news outlets.
Investigating Trump's involvement in hush money payments to women with whom he had affairs to silence them before the 2016 election.
Asking questions about how Trump's son-in-law and others were working at the highest level of the White House without security clearances.
Pressing allegations that Trump has violated the Constitution's emoluments clause by accepting payments for his businesses from foreign governments.
Investigating the administration's draconian immigration policy and protecting Obamacare from further encroachments.
Investigating Republican voter suppression efforts,which skewed the election outcome in Georgia, among other states.Smarting from Republican losses that have only grown worse in the week since the election, a furious Trump briefly mouthed platitudes about bipartisan cooperation before warning newly empowered congressional Democrats that any investigations into him and his administration would lead to a "warlike posture" that would dosh any bipartisan cooperation.
The president does have the Senate as a stopgap.
"They can play that [warlike] game, but we can play it better, because we have a thing called the United States Senate," Trump said. "I could see it being extremely good for me politically because I think I'm better at that game than they are, actually, but we'll find out."
But that Republican Senate majority remains razor thin after a pickup of only a seat or two, depending on the recount circus in Florida, and even a small number of defections from increasingly disgruntled Republican moderates, and there still are a few, could neuter that advantage.
Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo effectively counters the arguments that Democrats could blow their newly gained clout:
[B]asically every time a Democratic committee chair takes any investigative action next year you'll hear a chorus of pundit opinion holding that Democrats risk "overreaching" like Republicans did in the 1990s under President Clinton. There’s really no evidence this is the case. Indeed, this is flawed reasoning based on the elite national media's tendency to view politics in formal/structural rather than substantive terms. Republicans in the 1990s didn’t "overreach" in the 1990s because they investigated Clinton too much. They got bogged down and – at least in the 1998 midterms – got on the wrong side of public opinion because they pursued numerous investigations which were either trivial or based on outlandish conspiracy theories."The biggest hammers over Trump's head are not necessarily wielded by the Democrats.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is said to be writing a summary report of his Russia scandal investigation, new indictments are in the pipeline in addition to the 35 he already has obtained, and it is likely that everything that Trump poodle Matthew Whitaker does in his role as acting AG is unconstitutional. Meanwhile, we can expect that the stream of blockbuster stories from The New York Times and WaPo will continue.
And lest we forget, House Democrats have a pretty robust mandate.
Over 56 million Americans voted for congressional accountability — the highest House election vote total in history. Democrats have flipped 37 seats from red to blue, at this writing, and may end up flipping as many as 40.
The army of lawyers working for the beleaguered Trump and his Cabinet departments can slow the Democrats and Mueller with challenges over executive privilege and other legal gambits. Trump's disdain for the rule of law -- except when he can get a court to agree with him -- is absolute, but his court successes have been very few and very far between. I continue to believe that he'll do no better should any of his challenges reach the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh notwithstanding.
A hard rain is falling and court challenges would not be much more than holding actions. The flood waters are rising rapidly behind the dike the president and Vichy Republicans in Congress have erected to hold together a shaky administration that lurches from crisis to crisis and a chief executive far out of his depth and perhaps only a heartbeat away from flipping out.
That hard rain will continue to fall and that dike will eventually break.