As Richard Nixon faced his Watergate accusers after his landslide 1972 re-election, critics had already established an intellectual theme, the Imperial Presidency, that appeared in scholarly journals, books and guest editorials. It urged action to tame his administration’s behavior.
After his resignation and pardon, the 1974 midterm elections brought 43 new Democrats to the House and three more to the Senate, setting the stage for new legislation to constrain the Nixon administration’s long described rogue behavior. The War Power Act was passed (before the resignation), along with dozens of laws related to elections and abuse of power, such as the Federal Elections Commission and Freedom of Information Act. To help strengthen congressional oversight, the Congressional Budget Office was created. The growth of presidential power was slowed.
Similar to the 1970s, an entire publishing industry has been established critiquing President Trump’s abuse of power and danger to democracy. Google the term “Trump and fascism” or “authoritarianism” and see dozens of citations to popular and academic references. The intellectual framework is in place to limit the Authoritarian Presidency. If the Democrats win the House in the 2018 midterm, it will reflect a desire by voters to put some side rails on the Trump presidency. Discussions have already begun about which House committees would be involved, what issues addressed and the timing and process to follow.
Reporter Jeff Barker in the Baltimore Sun, hometown paper of Elijah Cummings, described the 22-year congressional veteran who could replace retiring Republican Trey Gowdy as Chair of the powerful Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which was a scourge of the Obama administration under Darrell Issa and now works equally hard to protect Trump
Cummings, as a ranking minority member, has already requested subpoenas for subjects related to immigrant family separation, security clearances and patient protection, such as pre-existing conditions. A few of the topics discussed among staffs and members include:
One issue the Cummings and Democratic House leadership wants to avoid is impeachment. As I told Barker:
“The risk of talking about impeachment is to scare off moderates, suburbanites, independents who would like a little relief from the level of bitter partisanship and the unbelievable gridlock,” said Floyd Ciruli, a Colorado-based independent pollster. “Their problem is, Mueller may come in with true high crimes and misdemeanors.”
If Mueller presented impeachment-worthy evidence, Ciruli said, the Democrats could get dragged into a debate “in spite of their leadership.”