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The Return of Constitutional Government?

The partial shutdown of the federal government is about to set a new and dubious record for the longest in our nation’s history. Amazingly, this happened while one party controlled Congress and the presidency, illustrating the Republicans’ incredible failure to successfully govern during Donald Trump’s two-year tenure. But all that changed with the historic re-ascendency of Rep. Nancy Pelosi to speaker of the House, leading the new majority of Democrats elected in the blow-out mid-term rejection of Trump’s chaotic, destructive presidency.

Our government is constitutionally established with three “separate but equal” branches: The Legislative, Executive and Judicial. The Legislative, Congress, writes the laws and appropriates funding; the Executive, the president, implements the laws with the funding provided; and the Judicial ensures that society adheres to the rights, principles and responsibilities enumerated in the Constitution.

Unfortunately, for the last two years we’ve had a bizarre form of governance where an inexperienced and unskilled president tried to rule by imperial fiat. Simply put, if Trump didn’t want it, Congressional Republican majorities didn’t do it. Those who rightfully disagreed with this mutation and sought to fulfill their oath to serve the Constitution, not their political party, were castigated, demeaned and sometimes even driven from office.

This is not how it’s supposed to work, which is perhaps why it didn’t work. Congress has the responsibility to propose, debate and approve laws and appropriations no matter what the president may or may not support. For those who may have forgotten, that’s just what the Republican majorities in Congress did for the last six years of the Obama presidency, caring little what he did or didn’t want and stymieing any of his appointments or policy initiatives they didn’t like.

To say the worm has turned would be an exaggeration since the Republicans still hold the Senate majority. But it’s safe to say with the divided Congress, we will no longer see undue power vested in the president but quite the opposite — which is a return to Constitutional governance.

Speaker Pelosi, the target of savage degradation by Trump, including targeting her in the mid-terms as a goad to Republican voters, understands very well how government is supposed to work. With 31 years in Congress and now in her historic second speakership, few have more experience in the challenges and opportunities the new Democratic House majority brings.

Moreover, Pelosi leads the most diverse Democratic majority in history with the highest number of women, minority and LGBTQ representatives ever seated in Congress. Those new members have no tolerance for Trump’s white nationalism and have declared to fight for the equality and opportunity guaranteed for all citizens in the Constitution, regardless of race, sex or religion.

Within hours of re-taking the speaker’s gavel, Pelosi’s new majority passed bills to reopen and fund government — but without the billions Trump has demanded for his wall. What they do, however, is ensure hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers will be able to go back to work, pay their bills, take care of their families and fulfill the functions for which they were hired.

Now it’s time for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to start performing his job as a member of a separate but equal Congress. McConnell’s claim that he won’t pass bills without pre-approval by Trump is an abdication of his congressional responsibility.

Trump doesn’t like what’s in the legislation? Fine, let him veto them and see if Congress overrides his veto. That’s how government is supposed to work — not by congressional obeisance to the president.

 

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George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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