THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

Ever since Donald Trump placed his hand on the Bible he has engaged in a scorched earth policy against the institutions that form the cornerstone of our democracy.

The intelligence community, judiciary, legislature, free press and electoral process have all been subjected to Trump’s self serving attacks.  Their only sin…failing to bend the knee to the would be king.  With few exceptions they have remained silent as Trump rained his 140 character rants upon them.

That all ended this past week when the Empire finally decided to strike back.

In spite of enormous political pressure from the president, including the threat of withholding critical federal funding from one senator’s home state, three Republican senators joined Democrats in killing the GOP’s final gasp to repeal and replace Obamacare.  A bitter and humiliating defeat for the president, who whose promise to repeal and replace his predecessor’s key legislative achievement on his very first day in office, was a key component to his upset victory.

In one of the most startling moments of his young presidency…Trump unleashed an early morning tweet announcing that effective immediately transgender individuals would not be allowed to serve in the military.  A presidential policy announcement that caught the pentagon completely off guard.  Rather than blindly acquiesce to the president’s order, Chairman of the Joint chiefs Marine General Joseph Dunford issued the following statement: “There will be no modifications to the current (transgender) policy until the president’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has implementation guidance.”  Translation…”No.”  A stunning rebuke of the president’s authority as Commander-in-Chief.

Trump had spent the better part of two weeks publically bashing Jeff Sessions; hoping the public humiliation would force his “beleaguered” attorney general to resign.  Sessions’ unforgivable  sin stemming from a decision to recuse himself from the Russian investigation.  A decision which ultimately led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  By removing his most loyal supporter Trump believed he would clear a path toward appointing a new AG that would bend to his will and fire the formidable Mueller.  Trump had followed a similar strategy in firing FBI Director James Comey with little blowback form Trump’s party or his opponents.

That was then and this is now.

Once Trump’s self serving intentions became clear, formerly silent lawmakers from both sides of the aisle spoke out publically in support of Sessions.  Republican Senators Graham and Sasse were particularly pointed in their warnings of the hell Trump would pay if he moved to oust Sessions.  Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) warned the president that there was “No way” his committee would hold a confirmation hearing for a new AG in 2017.  Grassley said his committee’s agenda was set for the year; noting the confirmations for judicial nominees would come first followed by hearings for sub-cabinet positions.

With the August recess on the horizon lawmakers were concerned that Trump might fire Sessions and use his executive authority to appoint a new AG as a recess appointment.  Once again lawmakers stood up to the president.  Rather than adjourning for the August recess, members agreed to remain in “pro forma” session over the traditional break.  In other words most lawmakers will head home to their districts but a handful will remain to “gavel in and gavel out” every three days.  Technically allowing congress to remain in session while preventing Trump from forcing through any recess appointments.

Sessions was not the only law enforcement official targeted by the president.  When the NYT reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was looking into Trump’s business dealings the president came unhinged.  He stated publically that any examination of Trump’s business records would be outside Mueller’s authority and would be a “red line” that Mueller should not cross.  Lawmakers worried that Trump might shred all protocols and fire Mueller.  Lawmakers from both parties responded in kind, proffering two pieces of legislation:  the first would require a three panel judicial review of any order to fire the special counsel and the second would authorize the judicial branch to reinstate the special counsel should they find the termination order to be without cause.  “Any attempt by President Trump to fire Mueller, warned California Senator Dianne Feinstein, would mark the beginning of the end for his presidency.”

And then there was the matter of Russian sanctions.  Lawmakers have long been concerned about the president’s unusually cozy relationship with Russia.  A concern magnified by the fact that the president continues to state publically that stories of Russia meddling in our elections are nothing but a ruse and any narrative purporting Russian collusion with the Trump campaign is “fake news.”  Many on the Hill were concerned that the president might follow up on his rhetoric by rolling back sanctions put in place to punish Russia for meddling in the elections.

In a move clearly designed to rein in the president’s power, congress not only toughened the sanctions against Russia, they included provisions within the bill that would force Trump to certify that the Russians had ceased their efforts to meddle in our electoral process before he could roll the sanctions back.  The bill passed through both chambers with a veto proof super-majority thereby forcing the president to sign.

In six short months this president has inflicted enormous damage on our country’s institutions, our relationships with our allies and our standing within the international community.

The damage is not irreparable.  For as we have recently witnessed, the check and balances are still in place.  The guardrails defined by the Founders still remain strong.

No one man is bigger than the republic.  Not even the most powerful man in the world.

The empire is not dead.

Rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.

 

 

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