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The House has muscles yet to flex by @BloggersRUs

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The House has muscles yet to flex

by Tom Sullivan

Notre Dame Cathedral fire from French police drone

The architecture of federal power is intended to prevent one branch of government from overwhelming the others. What we call checks and balances we might, in another context, call firestops. Lack of fire-control features in the original design led to the near complete loss of the enduring Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday. For all its grandeur and hundreds of years of history, fire might have razed it in a day.

America, take note.

The Constitution’s original design anticipated many threats to the republic. But complacent trust in its endurance, and neglect in the face of shifting balances of power have left it vulnerable as well.

Former North Carolina congressman Brad Miller argues (I’m reading between the lines here) that in the face of a president with no regard for the law and no commitment to the constitution to which he swore an oath, it is time for the legislative branch that has too long allowed the executive branch to arrogate power to flex muscles it has let atrophy:

House Democrats need not ask meekly for information about Trump’s finances and the Mueller report and accept whatever Trump voluntarily provides. The power of the House and of the Senate to compel the disclosure of documents and testimony to inform the exercise of their constitutional powers is very, very well-established. “The power of the Congress to conduct investigations is inherent in the legislative process. That power is broad,” the Supreme Court said in Barenblatt v. United States. “It encompasses inquiries concerning the administration of existing laws as well as proposed or possibly needed statutes.”

“The power of inquiry has been employed by Congress throughout our history, over the whole range of the national interests concerning which Congress might legislate or decide upon due investigation not to legislate; it has similarly been utilized in determining what to appropriate from the national purse, or whether to appropriate,” the Supreme Court said in Watkins v. United States. “The scope of the power of inquiry, in short, is as penetrating and far-reaching as the potential power to enact and appropriate under the Constitution.”

Miller concludes:

House Democrats need not have particular legislation in mind to investigate Trump’s finances or the Mueller Report. It is not at all difficult to imagine legislation that Congress might consider to remedy “defects in our social, economic or political system” [Watkins] that the investigations might reveal.

In his person, the sitting president has exposed a raft of defects and other systemic political weaknesses that need remediating before a damaging fire starts. To the president’s insults and rage tweets, House Democrats might reply, “Up your nose with a rubber hose,” legislatively speaking. Oversight is their job. “The power of inquiry” is theirs to wield.

From money to racism to politics and in between, power dynamics are a fundamental and near-unavoidable reality for the human animal. It might be tech firms using anti-trust laws against market competitors. Or a resurgent oligarchy concentrating wealth and undermining democratic processes that might curb it. Or a white majority threatening less-white immigrants whose numbers challenge its cultural dominance. It’s always about power.

House Democrats need to do more than reclaim their time. They need to reclaim their power to prevent the president and his coterie of firebugs from burning the place to the ground.

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