The decline of Washington politics into a reality television show over the past two years has numbed the average citizen to the import of the partisan collision building between the Trump administration and the Democratic-controlled House.
In a reminder that “all politics is local,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) is the author of record of a joint resolution signed by more than 225 co-sponsors in the U.S. House that challenges President Donald Trump’s Feb. 15 declaration of a national emergency and his plans to bypass Congress to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Only one Republican member of the House is among the resolution’s co-sponsors, which shows how bitterly partisan even constitutional issues have become. Politics now trumps principle at every turn. Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio), for example, has consistently opposed Trump’s proposed multibillion-dollar wall, even when the president insisted Mexico would pay for it. Yet he has not signed on as a sponsor; to do so would undermine any future standing in the GOP.
The House is expected to pass the resolution Tuesday, leaving the Republican-controlled Senate to follow with its vote. There could be enough Republican senators opposed to the president’s self-declared emergency and decision to seize the “power of the purse” from the legislative branch that it could narrowly pass the Senate. Probably not.
Trump will veto the bill if it comes to his desk, and it’s highly doubtful Democrats could muster the two-thirds vote necessary to override that veto. That will leave matters between the two branches of government in a state of heightened tension as opponents of what the Democrats are tweeting is the “FakeTrumpEmergency” challenge the president in the judiciary and the court of public opinion.
Sixteen states have joined forces to sue the administration, arguing there is no national emergency. The suit cites Trump’s own Rose Garden pronouncement on Feb. 15 that “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster” as evidence his move is political rather than addressing an issue of legitimate national import.
National Public Radio’s national political correspondent Mara Liasson served as the keynote speaker Thursday evening at the San Antonio World Affairs Council’s Citizen of the Year dinner honoring former Mayor Phil Hardberger. Liasson, who has covered every administration since Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, put the reality TV metaphor in my mind as she described to audience members what it’s like covering Trump.
There is an Alice in Wonderland quality to daily life in Washington where up is down and down is up. People these days, Liasson noted, start with their opinion and then seek out supportive facts. The days when facts were universally accepted and formed the basis for political debate seem to belong to a bygone era, at least for now.
Voters have become so tribal in their outlook that the drama unfolding next week in Washington, D.C., will be seen only by a few as a confrontation of great constitutional import. Most are likely to view it through the distorted lens of their own partisan bias, tuning out those who see Trump’s declaration as a dangerous erosion of the separation of powers.
This week’s clash between the executive and legislative branches will quickly be followed, if sources are accurate, by the fight over whether Robert Mueller’s special counsel report is released in its entirety.
Congressional Democrats already have signaled they will use their subpoena power to demand its full release, and the many hands on such a report suggest the report will leak.
Elected officials who control state government in Texas are displaying the same divisive partisanship rather than ruling in the general interest of all citizens. The secretary of state’s badly fumbled effort to knock off 100,000 new voters from the rolls has eroded public confidence in the office to fairly manage elections in a nonpartisan manner.
Liasson expressed optimism in American democracy and its resilience when I asked her if she was worried about the long-term corrosive effect of the current state of affairs. I am more pessimistic. Trump’s success in taking the Republican party sharply to the right and in a more populist direction seems to be inspiring the rise of Democrats who want to take their party hard to the left in response.
There seem to be few leaders speaking to those of us caught in-between these days, even though politics at the local and national level have always seemed to best serve the majority when people have met in the middle.