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Serving at the pleasure of lies and money

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Eleanor Clift

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Monday, July 1, 2019

The American system of checks and balances government does not work the way most people think it does or the way the Founding Fathers said it would.

The president serves at the pleasure of Congress, just as the prime minister of the UK serves at the pleasure of Parliament, which means that the House of Representatives can impeach and the Senate can remove a president with or without cause. Yes, the Constitution refers to presidential “high crimes and misdemeanors,” but these are whatever Congress says they are.

The next step to understanding the impeachment process is that Congress serves at the pleasure of both the people and moneyed interests. That last part is not what the Founding Fathers envisioned or intended, but the overriding influence of money is how our system has evolved.

If Congress says a president has committed impeachable offenses, a majority vote in the House can launch an inquiry and file articles of impeachment. High crimes and misdemeanors are legal terms, but not in Congress-speak. In fact, Congress need not offer any reason to remove a president. Congress only needs the will to do so, not a cause.

The political will to impeach and remove President Trump for the behavior described in the Mueller report does not exist, and will not exist until the electorate and monied class reach the conclusion that it is time for Trump to go.

If those two constituent groups are happy with the economy, and enough of them like their MAGA red hats, Trump can evade if not impeachment, removal by the Senate.

However, if the House does move ahead with impeachment, there is at this writing only one Republican representative, Justin Amash of Michigan, who would vote with Democrats to impeach. Trump would call such an overtly partisan vote a witch hunt.

In the Senate, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is the poster boy for the politics of the moment. He was Senator John McCain’s best friend in the Senate. They were the two Amigos. After McCain’s death from brain cancer last year, Graham underwent a sudden and extraordinary transformation from McCain ally and Trump critic to Trump defender and apologist, placing him as the leader of the pack on their political walk of shame.

Friends of Graham explain his turnabout by saying he’s “in cycle,” meaning he’s up for reelection in South Carolina next year, and he has to keep the Trump base in line or face a challenge from the right. Democrat Jaime Harrison, former head of the South Carolina Democratic Party, has announced his bid for the seat, but like most Republicans, Graham has concluded the greater threat is from the right in a primary.

So, Graham threw his friend under the bus and remained silent when it was revealed that White House officials ordered the name of the Navy ship, the USS John S. McCain, obscured during Trump’s recent trip to Japan. Asked about it, Trump said he had no foreknowledge, but appreciated the well-meaning gesture from someone who did it on his behalf.

Fixing Trump’s character flaws are beyond the scope of legislation, but there are some steps that should be taken to restore what the Founding Fathers intended, or at least dreamed might be possible.

One is campaign finance reform, which McCain fought for as a senator and gained in bipartisan legislation that bears his name, McCain-Feingold, and which the Supreme Court has largely struck down, allowing money to flow almost unabated into politics.

The second is information dissemination, an area of social media and corporate influence that is undermining our democracy. Case in point, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asked Facebook to take down a video of her that was doctored by political opponents to make her look drunk and mentally unfit. Here again, the Supreme Court in its wisdom years ago decided that laws protecting citizens from libel and slander only applied to public figures in extreme cases

So, Facebook refused Pelosi’s request, calling it political speech. If she were a private citizen, they would have been compelled to call it what the Founding Fathers would have called it: a violation of civil – or in some instances, criminal – law, not protected by the First Amendment.

Nearly unlimited campaign troughs of money and the dissemination of lies and propaganda are swaying public opinion and votes, undermining the political process. As a result, Congress now serves at the pleasure of those lies and money, and the president serves at the pleasure of Congress.

Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.

Washington Merry-Go-Round, the nation’s longest-running column, presents today’s events in historical perspective. Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift are veteran commentators.

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