Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 14

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on April 13, 2017

This is my 19th installment to a now-ongoing series of postings in which I seek to address politics in the United States as it has become, starting with the nominations process leading up to the 2016 presidential elections (see Social Networking and Business 2, posting 244 and loosely following.) And this is also my 14th installment here since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, and with many already deeply concerned as to his competency for holding office – and at just 84 days since his swearing into office, counting January 20, 2016: his inauguration day as his day one as president. Many, in fact have held deep reservations as to Donald Trump’s capabilities from even before he was elected too.

I have been adding a succession of lengthy and at least relatively topically complex postings to this series, and certainly since starting to address the Trump presidency per se in its Part 6 installment that first went live one month after his inauguration. My goal for this posting is to focus on one relatively narrow piece to this still emerging and expanding puzzle, and the role that the United States Congress has been playing, and both in shaping and promoting what might be considered an at least Trump-oriented policy, and in attempting to block and thwart that. And if politics can make for strange bedfellows, recent post-election events in Washington and on Capital Hill have just given the word “strange” a whole new meaning there – as I will at least briefly discuss here.

I briefly made note in Part 18 of how the Republican members of the US Senate have used their advice and consent responsibilities in making confirmation decisions of high ranking presidential nominees for appointed positions, to essentially rubber-stamp approve any and all who president Trump has sent their way – and seemingly without anyone having in any real way vetted them prior to those confirmation votes. That lack of serious or even significant vetting has held true during the confirmation committee hearings that have taken place, as well as for any potential gathering and sifting of evidence by congressional staff, that voting members of the Senate would be expected to turn to in making their decisions.

Democrats, who are outnumbered and in both the Senate and I add the House, have spoken out against and and have voted against Trump’s nominees in the Senate and in confirmation committee hearings there and when those committee’s findings have been brought to the full Senate for finalizing votes. Republicans have voted to confirm, and in equally consistent party-line lock step and all of these confirmations have gone through.

But let me clarify what that actually means beyond its seeming monolithic level of Republican congressional support for the new Trump administration, by repeating a point that I made at the end of Part 18 that puts that into perspective. Republican senators have in fact pushed through confirmation approvals and consistently so, since the 2016 elections and Donald Trump’s inauguration, but:

• “As of now, president Trump has only filled 22 of 553 key appointed positions in his administration that call for Senate confirmation. He has, by all accounts I have seen, not even come up with lists of names yet for many if not most of those unfilled positions, for consideration as possible appointees.” And those numbers have not changed since Part 18 went live on April 9, 2017 so the “every time” so far just noted for this, still leaves a great deal to be done and a great deal of room for change moving forward.

Still, on this one issue at least, Republicans in Congress seem to remain united. But this brings me to the debacle that arose when president Trump, backed by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan sought to ram through a repeal and replace bill in counterpoint to the Affordable Care Act (ACA): Obama Care, with their ill-conceived and toxically framed and presented American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA): Trump Care, of if you prefer Ryan Care.

Democrats all spoke out against even bringing this bill to a vote and en mass in the House, and that was to be expected. But so did Republican members of the House who were caught in the middle between angry constituents and party loyalty. Many of them had just come back from traveling through their home districts during a break in their work schedule in Washington, where they had found themselves facing registered Republican voters who did not want to lose their healthcare insurance or that of their families and who had come to value at least key features of the ACA that they now saw directly threatened. And they saw the Trump administration’s AHCA as an impending disaster for them if passed into law, for what it would cut and for who it would benefit.

More specifically and more significantly to these Republican members of Congress, they had just come back from having just been repeatedly loudly, angrily verbally attacked and challenged in public meetings with their constituents, and by the very same people who had elected them into their positions in Congress and who could just as easily unseat them the next time around. A significant number of these Republican office holders, weighing their choices and chances decided to stand up against their party leadership and their party’s president and speak out against their party’s AHCA in particular.

And at least seemingly to president Trump’s and representative Paul Ryan’s surprise, a significant number of the more conservative Republicans in the Freedom Caucus there, also voted against this bill too – but because it did not go far enough to their ideological taste. So a significant majority of voting members of the House of Representatives and from both sides of the aisle all came out to vote down one of president Trump’s signature initiatives and one that he had built had his election campaign around and one that he was now building his administration’s policy around enacting: his vision of healthcare reform.

And this was a repeal and replace vote that members of the Republican Party caucus in both the House and Senate had called for and repeatedly and for most of eight years running. And now their party controlled both the House and Senate and the Oval Office and their attempt to actually do this collapsed into chaos.

It is important to note that this vote failure, and in fact failure to even successfully bring this bill to a vote at all, did not arise because a unified majority of members of the House (or at least one that was unified for this one issue) had come together in shared agreement as to what was wrong with the AHCA or in what could be done to fix it. This loss arose because a collective majority of the House came together to kill this measure for multiple conflicting and even essentially diametrically opposed reasons. That, in fact would make any simple reframing of the initial AHCA bill that would somehow address all concerns, a fundamental impossibility, as any effort to appease one of the anti-AHCA camps that has fought against it would essentially by definition just harden the opposition of other detractors to it and probably strengthen their numbers too.

Donald Trump, as discussed in recent installments to this series, responded to this breaking of ranks by viciously, publically attacking any and all resistant Republicans in the House and all members of their Freedom Caucus in particular, with threats to actively campaign against them and against their being reelected to office for challenging and defying him. There is a saying about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Trump couldn’t do that here because he had no actual realistic potential victory to snatch anything out of the mouth of. But he did in effect actively snatch what will probably turn into two (or more) defeats from the mouth what could have been just one of them, with this strident effort to alienate and anger the people who he needs the most if he is to get any of his agenda through Congress, moving forward. And the next big agenda bill that president Trump is going to have to get pushed through Congress by these same people is his budget. And so far at least, president Trump seems to be following the same game plan for that, that he employed with his failed healthcare reform attempt with what he is proposing to cut and gut in the way of popular government programs.

It is going to be interesting to see how that fight shapes up and particularly as a number of programs that are dear to the hearts of members of Trump’s political base, and to the people of Republican legislators’ home districts, are on the chopping block, and in every rough draft and outline of what will be in the Trump budget that has been publically offered by him and by his administration to date.

That briefly stated analysis addresses the House of Representatives as it has performed up to now in the face of the Trump administration. And it highlights what might become a recurring pattern of challenge that president Trump at the very least facilitates for himself, and one that he does not seem to be capable of avoiding creating for himself, as he seeks to push a legislative agenda through Congress, as well as rule by fiat through executive orders – which have significantly failed for him too and on a number of key issues now, immigration reform definitely included.

What has the Senate done in all of this? So far, failure to move any big ticket items on the Trump agenda through the House has left the Senate with little to work on, at least as far as new law would be debated and voted upon. But Senate Republicans have been busy on the confirmation side of Trump’s agenda and particularly when Senator Mitch McConnell invoked the so called nuclear option to change the rules for how a candidate for the Supreme Court would be voted upon to reach a sufficient majority to confirm their appointment. So Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by a simple party line, majority vote in the Senate. See:

Neil Gorsuch Confirmed by Senate as Supreme Court Justice.

And any real chance of accommodating compromise on the part of any Senate Democrats on anything proposed from the Republican caucus from there on was dealt a harsh preemptive blow.

This leaves me with one major area of potential consideration here. And it is one that I have in fact been preparing for in background discussion in this series since its Part 6 at the very least. And that is the question of president Trump’s competency to hold office, and both according to the standards and guidelines addressed in the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution and its Section 4 (for possible incapacitation determinations due to mental health challenges) and in Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution (for possible impeachment.) And that is the 800 pound gorilla in any room that is in any way affected by Donald Trump right now, the chambers of the House and Senate definitely included.

I have repeatedly addressed the challenges of actually invoking the 25th Amendment and removing a sitting president from office due to mental health incapacitation. See Part 18 for my most recent discussion of that complex of issues. And I have argued a case that this approach to remove him from active service in office is unlikely. But that still leaves us all, and members of the United States Congress in particular with the issues of invoking the impeachment clause to the US Constitution, and its challenges (see this series’ Part 12 for a discussion of this Constitutional clause and its history.)

Members of the Republican caucus in Congress and certainly in the House have broken ranks with the Trump administration and with their own party leadership there to directly challenge and block one of their president’s key legislative initiatives, and appear to be prepared to do so again. And while House Republicans have in effect blocked inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections there, and into investigation of possible Trump campaign collusion in that, the Republican led Senate is moving ahead on its investigation of this now. And the key House Republican to block action there on this: Devin Nunes has been forced to relinquish his position of control over this investigation there. See:

Devin Nunes to Step Aside From House Investigation on Russia

This brings me to what might be the great open question here: are a sufficient number of Republicans, first in the House and then in the Senate willing to confront a president from their own party: president Trump in impeachment hearings, and if so what levels and types of accusations and evidence would be required for them to so act? If the House were to vote to approve articles of impeachment against Trump and with anything like significant Republican support there, and with a compellingly argued case to justify that and regardless of party affiliation, even a Republican led Senate might find it very difficult to vote against such a bill, and certainly without a full and open and candid examination of the case presented to them. Many from among their constituencies would not quietly stand idly by if Senate Republicans simply tried to push that type of challenge aside along partisan party lines.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will discuss Trump’s support base and factors that might influence his decisions and actions – and those of his immediate staff and inner circle. And after that, I will discuss two complex sets of issues that I first made note of as upcoming points of consideration in this series, at the end of Part 18:

• After that I will look more deeply into the issue of crises as they arise and impact upon and shape presidential administrations.
• And after that I will at least attempt to follow a path here that I have build my consulting career around when working with businesses, and at least attempt to lay out some parameters for constructive change in what we are seeing around us and certainly as coming from the Trump administration and from Donald Trump himself.

I have already begun addressing the challenge of crisis and how it might arise at least, for a presidency in Part 18, and for president Trump in particular. I will at least briefly examine a few historical examples of how American presidents have been tested in crisis and how this has shaped them and their presidencies in turn.

At the end of Part 18 and with regard to the second of those to-address bullet points, I added that I would approach this as I would a management consulting assignment, to at least ground what I would offer in something in the way of real world experience. I find it all but impossible to believe that I would find myself in a position where I would see reason to offer an assessment of this type, regarding a presidency of a country like the United States, and both for its history and for its position of power and authority in the world. But I add here that the types of case study examples that I find myself contemplating here all involve change management in less than functional family owned and run businesses. Given Donald Trump’s nepotistic and tightly controlled inner circle tendencies and practices, that unfortunately is not all that much of a reach. Yes, my offering any advice here sounds more than a little grandiose to me too, but we have reached a point where people of good will need to speak out.

I have been offering a new installment to this series every four days now since its February 20th Part 6 posting and will probably write my next installment to go live on a similar schedule. But after that and certainly after offering some at least rough-draft notes on what positively might be doable – assuming Trump simply stays in office, I will probably start posting to this at a more relaxed and usual pace and with longer delays between installments.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

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