I’m reminded of an old maxim, “When you’re up to your a** in alligators, it’s hard to remember that your first objective was to drain the swamp.” Here’s what I found interesting over the past 48 hours on Capitol Hill.
First, I wonder when was the last time a Congressional Committee proposal got as much attention, media backlash, and citizens lighting up the phone lines, as quickly as the House Republicans’ proposed changes yesterday to the Office of Congressional Ethics. I am curious; I truly don’t know the answer, and would like to know.
Second, when has a President-elect ever publicly chided lawmakers for their judgment concerning an action taken before he’s even sworn in? Donald Trump decried House Republicans who targeted Congressional Ethics for their first move of 2017, rather than” …tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS”
Again, I am curious; I truly don’t know the answer, and would like to know.
Third, I’m fascinated by the emergence of not just campaigning but now perhaps also governance via Twitter. The President-elect has no constitutional power connected to his forthcoming office before he’s sworn in. Today, we saw someone with no official power scold and perhaps even humiliate House Republicans on social media. How embarrassing for them. That’s not…(Canadian word, I can’t help it) nice.
Let’s use the more formal word for “nice”: Civility.
Fourth, I expect civility from all elected representatives, from President to dog-catcher, working within as well as across party lines. I regret that these days “expect” often doesn’t mean “anticipate.” This is where my political naïveté leaves me at a disadvantage. Couldn’t a civil conversation with a few key players have accomplished the same thing? Sigh. A bullhorn makes a terrifying noise that wipes out stuns one’s ability to think, and rather impedes conversation, to say nothing of negotiation or the development of mutual understanding.
I’m going to proceed for a moment in a spirit of open-mindedness. Let us think the best of the House Republicans and grant that they spent considerable time studying this matter and developing their proposal. Is it possible that the current rules under which the Office of Congressional Ethics operates can create undue hardship for members of Congress who are falsely, or even frivolously, accused of wrongdoing? Sure. The base 2016 salary of rank-and-file members of Congress was $174,000. Legal fees could decimate that in a hurry.
So, what was so urgent about this problem that it needed to be attached to the first package of rules proposed for the new year? Had it come up for public debate or discussion last year? If so, then please explain to me why the proposed changes were a perfectly routine matter of good governance and would not have hampered independent oversight. If it was delayed or not supported then, why not?
Once more, I am curious; I truly don’t know the answer, and would like to know.
This was the first item on the news at 6 am when I woke up. I have a day job and I’m not a full time researcher. If I’m a responsible citizen, part of my job is to be well-informed on civic issues. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it true. I didn’t drop everything and look into all sides of the issue.
But I did notice that certain influential social media mavens and media lit up the web this morning, urging citizens to contact their legislators to stop the proposed changes. Thousands of them did just that.
Between the President-elect’s tweet, the flooded phone lines, and heaven knows what else that went on, I saw the first example in what isn’t even yet the new Administration of mobilized public response to a congressional proposal. Pretty impressive for a first go-round.
Finally, today the President-elect just might have been on common ground with a whole lot of people who didn’t vote for him (however briefly, and maybe not for the same reasons). Fascinating.