Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Politics of Power

If anything, the politics of power have gotten even more brutish as Republicans begin to exercise their newfound near-absolute control of government. Previous norms of conduct continue to fall. That's saying a lot, coming as it does after eight years of Republican scorched-earth obstruction culminatingit's still stunning to contemplate thisin the denial of a sitting president due consideration of his Supreme Court nominee.

Recent examples include the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) warning that several of Trump's cabinet nominees have not been properly vetted prior to beginning their confirmation hearingssomething that except for one relatively minor example is unprecedented in the four decades the office has existed. The OGE says the dearth of vetting of current nominees is a matter of "great concern."

There is an established ethics review process, including a requirement that nominees submit certain paperwork, that is supposed to be completed before hearings begin. Members of the relevant Senate committees can't perform proper due-diligence without those materials, but several of Trump's nominees haven't provided them, even as the process is allowed to move forward. The OGE director said that not only had a number of nominees not completed the ethics process, but the "OGE has not received even initial draft financial disclosure reports for some of the nominees scheduled for hearings."

This is highly irregular, to say the least.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's plan is to fast-track Trump's nominees by, as it were, "flooding the zone" with an onslaught of hearings, thereby having the effect of a bare minimum of Senate, press, and public consideration of any one of them due to sheer information overload.

Hearings for multiple high-profile nominees will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, with a cacophony of other concurrent events (such as Trump's first press conference in almost half a year) also competing for attention. You can only drink so much from a fire hose.

This is actually an improvement. Initially six hearings were scheduled for Wednesday alone.

Only two days of hearings have been allocated to Trump's controversial Attorney General nominee, Jeff Sessions. That's less review than Sessions received several decades ago when a Republican Senate rejected his nomination to the federal bench because of concerns of racism. Those concerns remain. Democrats are only being allowed four witnesses in the Sessions hearing.

While always important, vetting is especially crucial for this administration because so many of its highest profile nominees are relatively unknown to legislators, or are decidedly controversial. Some have expressed views that are openly hostile to the very missions of the departments they have been nominated to head.

The Trump transition seems to think the requirements for proper vetting consistent with constitutionally-mandated Senate consent are less a standard of good governance than a political nuisance. We should quit nit-picking and take it on the new administration's say-so that all its nominees are superb. How else to interpret this statement from the transition:

President-elect Trump is putting together the most qualified administration in history and the transition process is currently running smoothly. In the midst of a historic election where Americans voted to drain the swamp, it is disappointing some have chosen to politicize the process in order to distract from important issues facing our country. This is a disservice to the country and is exactly why voters chose Donald J. Trump as their next president.

Thus do those who insist on established norms of conduct "politicize the process."

And in an Orwellian turn, "drain the swamp" means less, not more transparency. Just trust us.

Brace yourself; we're just getting started.

Copyright (C) 2017 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

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