The same Beltway braniacs who assured us that the President was in league with Vladimir Putin and sundry other Rȕskī reprobates now claim he has precipitated a constitutional crisis. House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler claims Trump is acting like a “king” by refusing to relitigate the Russia hoax, allow already-interrogated aides to be requestioned, or permit partisan congressional staffers to rummage through his tax and financial records. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi concurs that a crisis is at hand: “I do agree with Chairman Nadler because the administration has decided that they’re not going to honor their oath of office.”
Yet, the “get Trump” crowd is obviously growing increasingly frustrated that Nadler and Pelosi have taken no serious action to resolve the dire threat they claim President Trump poses to the republic. The New York Times, for example, published a column by Michelle Goldberg Friday titled, “If This Is a Constitutional Crisis, Act Like It.” Goldberg suggests that contempt votes against administration officials are all very well and good, but they are primarily symbolic and usually lead to protracted court battles that rarely resolve the crises that initially triggered them. Goldberg argues that Pelosi and Nadler should take more radical measures:
Pelosi is a sharp and pragmatic woman … But it is incoherent to argue that Trump constitutes an existential threat to the Constitution, and that Congress should wait to use the Constitution’s primary defense against such a threat.… In the face of an administration that is trying to amass dictatorial powers, Democrats need to bring to bear all the powers of their own. Trump’s outright rejection of congressional authority makes impeachment proceedings necessary, but even impeachment alone is not sufficient.
Note that last bit about impeachment not being “sufficient” to solve the crisis? Goldberg urges Congress to “enforce its own orders, including by sending out the House’s sergeant-at-arms to arrest people.” But even Pelosi isn’t that crazy. She knows only a tiny percentage of the public supports impeaching the President, much less the physical arrest of his Cabinet officials. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that only 17 percent of the voters support ousting Trump, including only 19 percent of Independents. Moreover, the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls shows Trump’s approval rating at its highest level since his inauguration.
But the will of the people means little to Trump’s increasingly irrational antagonists. Former secretary of labor Robert Reich, for example, published a column in the Guardian Saturday that illustrates his inability to think straight about the President: “It’s a constitutional crisis all right.” Having discharged his duty to parrot that canard, Reich explains why it would be futile and politically perilous for the Democrats to impeach Trump. He then says they should do so anyway because “it is the right thing to do.” But there is no consensus, even among liberal legal scholars, that we’re in the midst of a constitutional crisis. In Slate, Fordham’s Jed Shugerman says not:
This current episode is not a constitutional crisis because the Constitution is still functioning as designed, in terms of separation of powers. The key question to me is whether either party bypasses the courts or defies the courts. The House subpoenas documents, the executive branch makes legal arguments against those subpoenas, and the courts will hear this dispute.… A constitutional crisis would be the House trying to arrest [Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin or Barr without a court order.
Shugerman does a good job of highlighting the illiteracy concerning the Constitution that has dominated every debate during Trump’s tenure in office. Note his assertion about separation of powers. His point is that our system of government was designed with the expectation that there would be disputes between the separate branches of government. Conflicts between branches don’t signal constitutional crises. Such disputes check over-reach by any single branch and maintain a relative balance of power between the three co-equal branches. Nancy Pelosi evidently failed to get the last part of that memo and has been talking to Michelle Goldberg at the NYT:
I think we’re a superior branch, quite frankly. We have the power to make the law and the president enforces the law. So we have a big role. We’re closest to the people and we have a big role to play.… I have said that the president wants to goad us into impeachment. The point is, that every single day, whether it’s obstruction, obstruction, obstruction of having people come to the table with facts, ignoring subpoenas every single day, the president is making a case.… We do have a jail within the basement of the Congress.
That was the Speaker of the House, just last week, making it all too clear that she doesn’t really get how our government operates. Pelosi is without question a shrewd political operator. It is equally clear, however, that she is no constitutional scholar. Like most Democrats, she believes the term “constitutional crisis” means her party is losing. And they are indeed losing. Their grand strategy for getting Trump collapsed when the Mueller probe left them with egg dripping from their faces. They have nothing to offer the voters in 2020 beyond their antipathy for a President who has presided over a booming economy, low unemployment, low taxes, and low inflation.
Consequently, Pelosi, Nadler, and their accomplices in the media as well as the federal bureaucracy need a crisis — any crisis — to worry the voters about the President. But claims that he has endangered the republic by “acting like a King” or “trying to amass dictatorial powers” are just cries of desperation. The system is working exactly as intended. It is keeping our “leaders” at each other’s throats, which leaves them less time to pick our pockets. To paraphrase the immortal J. Rufus Fears, the Constitution is one of the only things of lasting value to be produced by a committee. There is no constitutional crisis — just a crisis of Democratic confidence.