NBC News ran a headline this week that may have seemed hyperbolic, but which was clearly rooted in fact: “Trump goes to war for power over Congress.”
Reading this Washington Post report, it’s difficult to draw any other conclusion.
President Trump’s defiance of congressional attempts to investigate his administration has put new pressure on the legislative branch’s ability to serve as a constitutional check on a president who sees few limits on his executive power.
Since taking office, Trump has consistently treated Congress as more of a subordinate than an equal – often aided by the tacit approval of congressional Republicans who have shown little interest in confronting the president.
But tensions between Trump and Capitol Hill have escalated in recent days as the White House refuses to comply with subpoenas from newly empowered House Democrats eager to conduct aggressive oversight of his administration.
One of the most striking aspects of this unfolding dilemma is the scope of the conflict.
Trump and his team are ignoring congressional subpoenas. And they’re ignoring a federal law on disclosure of his tax returns to a congressional committee chairman. And they’re ignoring requests for testimony. And they’re encouraging private entities not to cooperate with congressional inquiries. And they’re circumventing Congress on border measures. And they’re not bothering to nominate cabinet officials, preferring “acting” secretaries to those confirmed by the Senate.
The Post’s report added, “The administration has also blown off some requests from powerful Republicans.”
Donald Trump may not be building a wall between the United States and Mexico, but as the New York Times suggested yesterday, he’s making strides in building a wall between the White House and congressional oversight.
This is hardly the first time Americans have seen institutional tensions between the executive and legislative branches, though the Times added that the level of stonewalling is reaching “a new level.”
Such a blanket refusal has serious implications not only for the relationship between the current Congress and the administration, but also for the future ability of Congress to conduct oversight of any administration, depending on how the intensifying fight plays out.
“It is a radical departure and a radical theory from anything that has been done before,” said Phil Schiliro, a onetime Democratic staff director for the House oversight committee and a former top legislative adviser to President Barack Obama.
It’s hard to say with confidence what Congress intends to do in the face of such White House obstinance, but I think the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent is right that lawmakers will have to decide whether to allow Trump “to neuter them entirely, in a way that – by their own lights – puts the country and the rule of law in extreme peril.”