The empty speaker podium in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

Responding to impeachment, White House prepared to end legislative work

At the height of Watergate, with the very real possibility of presidential impeachment hanging over the political system, legislative work continued. In fact, Richard Nixon signed important bills into law in 1973 and 1974, even as his presidency was in jeopardy.

A quarter of a century later, as congressional Republicans impeached Bill Clinton, the policymaking process in the nation’s capital did not end, either.

But as Roll Call reported, as the impeachment push against Donald Trump gets underway, his White House has “threatened to shut down work on major legislation.”

Though it is the House and Senate that, under the Constitution, craft and pass bills, Trump holds ample sway because it is his call whether to sign them into law or kill them with a veto.

“House Democrats have destroyed any chances of legislative progress for the people of this country by continuing to focus all their energy on partisan political attacks. Their attacks on the President and his agenda are not only partisan and pathetic, they are in dereliction of their Constitutional duty,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

This followed a tweet from the president, who said Democrats in Congress “are so focused on hurting the Republican Party and the President that they are unable to get anything done.” He specifically complained about the lack of legislation on issues such as “gun safety” and the “lowering of prescription drug prices.”

The Democratic-led House has already passed bills on gun safety and lowering prescription drug prices. Both measures were sent to the Republican-led Senate, which has ignored these and other major legislative priorities. Indeed, the White House’s claim that Dems have focused “all their energy on partisan political attacks” is belied by a rather impressive list of legislative priorities the party has already passed.

But Team Trump’s confusion about recent events on Capitol Hill notwithstanding, the idea that the president is going to bring “legislative progress” to a halt is a difficult threat to take seriously.

For one thing, there’s been no legislative progress to end. House Democrats keep passing bills, and Mitch “Grim Reaper” McConnell keeps ensuring that his chamber remains a legislative graveyard. The White House threat has little value since it suggests the status quo will remain unchanged.

What’s more, the only major priority that was likely to pass between now and Election Day 2020 was NAFTA 2.0 – or whatever it is we’re now supposed to call it – and that’s more of a priority for Trump than most lawmakers.

But perhaps most important is the familiarity of the circumstances. It’s easy to forget, but in January, the president suggested he wouldn’t work with Congress on any legislation if there were investigations into his scandals. Then Trump reversed course, because there were things he wanted lawmakers to pass.

In May, the president again told Democratic leaders they’d have to choose between oversight and legislating, though he didn’t really mean that, either.

Now the White House is again prepared to end elusive “legislative progress” because lawmakers are daring to hold him accountable for his actions. If Trump thinks such obstinance makes him look better, or will strengthen his hand during his re-election campaign, he’s mistaken.