OFF TO THE RACES

Trump Flips the Bird to House Republicans

From his twitter pulpit, he saves them from a bonehead decision and reminds them what they were elected to do.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, left, talks with Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, as the 115th Congress gets underway. House Republicans voted Monday, Jan. 2, 2017, night to gut the independent Office of Government Ethics, a move sponsored by Rep. Goodlatte, the House Judiciary chairman.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Charlie Cook
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Charlie Cook
Jan. 5, 2017, 8 p.m.

Reg­u­lar read­ers of this column can prob­ably guess that I am fairly skep­tic­al about the suc­cess of Don­ald Trump’s up­com­ing pres­id­ency, but that doesn’t stop me from giv­ing him a huzzah for call­ing out House Re­pub­lic­ans for their at­tempt to gut the Of­fice of Con­gres­sion­al Eth­ics. In a closed-door meet­ing of the House GOP Con­fer­ence, both Speak­er Paul Ry­an and Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy spoke in op­pos­i­tion to de­fanging OCE and cre­at­ing a tooth­less Of­fice of Con­gres­sion­al Com­plaint Re­view that would in turn an­swer to the per­en­ni­ally worth­less House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee. Once upon a time, the lead­er­ship could kill such an egre­giously bad idea, but sadly those days have passed.

For all the talk of “drain­ing the swamp” in Wash­ing­ton, Re­pub­lic­ans in­stead did a clumsy can­non­ball right in the middle of it, though it could be ar­gued that one per­son’s swamp is an­oth­er per­son’s wa­ter­front prop­erty. Rep. Robert Good­latte de­fen­ded the ef­fort with the ri­dicu­lous ar­gu­ment that it “builds upon and strengthens the ex­ist­ing Of­fice of Con­gres­sion­al Eth­ics,” which was cre­ated after three House mem­bers were sent to fed­er­al pris­on for bribery.

But one of the strongest polit­ic­al un­der­cur­rents this year is that voters hate Wash­ing­ton, loathe ca­reer politi­cians, and com­pletely dis­trust the en­tire polit­ic­al pro­cess. Hav­ing a pro­fes­sion­al OCE staff that doesn’t an­swer to the law­makers and can re­spond to tips without a form­al com­plaint is ex­actly what voters want. To them, re­ly­ing on the House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee is like hav­ing foxes guard the chick­en coop.

Elect­ing Don­ald Trump was the voters’ way of flip­ping the bird to Wash­ing­ton and politi­cians. So it was only ap­pro­pri­ate that the pres­id­ent-elect gave the middle fin­ger to GOP House mem­bers, tweet­ing at 10:02 Tues­day morn­ing: “With all that Con­gress has to work on, do they really have to make the weak­en­ing of the In­de­pend­ent Eth­ics Watch­dog, as un­fair as it,” fol­lowed five minutes later by “……..may be, their num­ber one act and pri­or­ity. Fo­cus on tax re­form, health­care and so many oth­er things of far great­er im­port­ance!”

With­in two hours of the first tweet, an emer­gency meet­ing of the con­fer­ence was con­vened to strip out the of­fend­ing pro­vi­sion be­fore it was voted on by the House as a whole. Here was a case of Trump stop­ping House Re­pub­lic­ans from step­ping on a polit­ic­al land­mine, pre­vent­ing an em­bar­rass­ment from be­com­ing hun­dreds of Demo­crat­ic tele­vi­sion ads next year. Wheth­er Trump op­posed the OCE change or just thought the tim­ing was par­tic­u­larly in­op­por­tune doesn’t mat­ter much. More im­port­antly, Ry­an and Mc­Carthy among oth­ers can say, “I told you so,” the­or­et­ic­ally giv­ing them a little more lever­age the next time the rank-and-file bone­heads come up with a clunker like this one.

What is dis­ap­point­ing is how Trump crit­ics, who are quick to pounce on his every per­ceived trans­gres­sion, didn’t ac­know­ledge that he did the right thing here. To say that someone did one right thing is not to em­brace his every thought, word, or deed. It just gives him cred­it for mak­ing the right call at that time. But that’s not where we are in polit­ics today. Everything is bin­ary: Every­one in polit­ics is either all good or all evil. The former can’t do any­thing wrong, and the lat­ter can do noth­ing right.

What Re­pub­lic­an law­makers are dis­cov­er­ing is that the same bully pul­pit that Trump uses to bludgeon big com­pan­ies to keep jobs in the U.S. can be used against them, and that one or two tweets can change the course of ac­tion on Cap­it­ol Hill with­in two hours. In the past, a pres­id­ent-elect might well have been ad­vised to steer clear of this is­sue in fear of ali­en­at­ing law­makers whose sup­port will be needed with­in a mat­ter of weeks or months. But the dev­il-may-care Trump doesn’t play by the nor­mal rules. Every day is a new day for him, and polit­ic­al han­di­cap­pers can throw out their past-per­form­ance charts. Trump makes up the fu­ture as he goes along.

Not many months ago it was widely ex­pec­ted that Re­pub­lic­ans would lose the pres­id­en­tial race and very pos­sibly their Sen­ate ma­jor­ity. In a lot of ways they are like the dog that fi­nally caught the car. As The New York Times’ Carl Hulse poin­ted out early this week, Re­pub­lic­ans un­ex­pec­tedly will have the White House, the Sen­ate, and the House for the first time in a dec­ade, and nearly two-thirds of cur­rent GOP House mem­bers have nev­er served un­der a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ent. They have com­plete re­spons­ib­il­ity for gov­ern­ing, a pro­spect that many have nev­er had and didn’t an­ti­cip­ate—and may be un­pre­pared to handle.

Quite a few House Re­pub­lic­ans have spent the last eight years throw­ing rocks at Pres­id­ent Obama, in­vest­ig­at­ing things big and small, and passing le­gis­la­tion that they knew had little if any chance of be­com­ing law. Now they have to gov­ern, earn­ing their keep by mak­ing tough de­cisions. Wheth­er they like it or not, Trump just re­minded them of what they were elec­ted to do, and it wasn’t to cov­er their own rear ends.

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