X
    Categories Politics

The Senate is Trump’s Enemy

“There’s an old story about a freshman member of the House who is getting shown around by a senior member on his first day, and the freshman asks about the other party. ‘I want to meet the enemy,’ he says. ‘No, son,’ says the old bull, ‘they’re the opposition. The Senate is the enemy.’”

ADVERTISEMENT

That story shows that philosophy may not be the most important thing in Washington, but rather, process and/or the source of power. Donald Trump blames Democrats if he is frustrated, but the truth is, Democrats are irrelevant in Washington now. The real power struggle is between Trump and the Senate.

Trump was particularly chagrined by the bill that hit his desk to punish Russia. He didn’t like it, but he’s all about image, and it looks better to complain about signing a bill than to veto it and be humiliated with an override. Also, in the middle of an investigation of his ties with Russia, a veto would look suspicious, indeed.

In effect, the measure would sharply limit Mr. Trump’s ability to suspend or lift sanctions on Russia — handcuffing a sitting president just six months into his term with the nearly unanimous support of a Republican-led Congress.

Then, there was the move to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump had floated a “trial balloon,” to gauge public reaction to his assertion that he could fire Mueller and end the Russia investigation. That was not received well by the public, and now the Senate plans to prevent Trump from canning Mueller, according to The Hill.

Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). . .said Thursday that the effort “reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances” and would help ensure “investigatory independence” for special counsels. . .

In an interview with The New York Times last month, Trump said he wouldn’t rule out firing Mueller while warning the special counsel against investigating his family’s finances beyond the scope of the Russia probe.

The special counsel investigation has moved into a new phase with the impaneling of a grand jury in Washington, with reports this week that subpoenas have been issued.

Then there’s the attack by Trump on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as discussed by Fox News. That didn’t sit well with his former colleagues in the Senate. In fact, Business Insider reports that Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has said Trump might have to do without an attorney general if he fires Sessions.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would hold such a hearing, said in a tweet on Wednesday night that there was “no way” it would hold one in 2017.

Of course, if Trump fired Sessions while the Senate was on break, Trump could make a recess appointment. But the Senate saw that coming, and they’re making that option impossible.

The Senate blocked President Trump from being able to make recess appointments on Thursday as lawmakers leave Washington for their August break. . .

The move, which requires the agreement of every senator, means the Senate will be in session every three business days throughout the August recess. . .

Senators were scheduled to be in town through next week, but staffers and senators predicted they would wrap up a few remaining agenda items and leave Washington early.

Note that EVERY senator had to agree to block any Trump recess appointments. Also remember that Trump had told the Senate not to leave town until they came up with another health-care plan. Yet another poke in Trump’s eye by the Senate.

USA Today says that Trump’s woes with the Senate were made worse by Trump’s bullying tactics.

President Trump’s strong-arm negotiating tactics may have worked against business opponents but they are backfiring with Republican senators, who resent being bullied to vote with the president on health care and other issues and have the political clout to resist him, experts say.

“No matter how strong or dominant a personality the president has, he is going to have trouble taking on an American political institution as powerful as the U.S. Senate,” said Grant Reeher, a political science professor and director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University. “Senators have a strong sense of independence and sense of self that says ‘I don’t get pushed around that way.’ And they’re pushing back.”

The hostility toward Trump’s attacks goes right to the top. Trump had told McConnell to get rid of the filibuster, and McConnell recoiled, according to Politico.

A day after Trump urged McConnell to kill the filibuster. . .McConnell had this to say to the new president: That’s not your call. “That’s not a presidential decision. That’s a Senate decision,” McConnell told Politico.

The hostility toward Trump has increased to the point where some Senators are now talking about censuring Trump for various actions, including lying about Russia.

While Republicans hold the reins in both chambers of Congress, impeachment is an unlikely response to any of these growing concerns. But there is another option for members of Congress frustrated with the president but not prepared to impeach him: censure.

Censure lacks the legal bite of impeachment, such as disbarment from public office, but comes with its own political barbs. Although it hasn’t received much attention so far, this may be the likeliest scenario for Trump because it avoids the constitutional pitfalls of indictment and requires less political support from congressional Republicans than impeachment. . .

One other feature of censure is worth noting: unlike the impeachment process, the Senate could issue its own censure without waiting for the House to act first or in agreement.

And that’s Trump’s problem. The Senate has a lot of power, certainly more than the House. And FiveThirtyEight points out why the Senate is more hostile than the House.

1. Duh, re-election. . . The theory here is that being anti-Trump would hurt a Republican senator or representative with the GOP base and could lead to either a primary challenge or depressed support in the general election. Since all House members are facing re-election, more are shying away from open criticism of the president.

2. Senators may dislike Trump more than House members do. . . By last October, near the end of the presidential campaign, 14 of the 54 then-sitting GOP senators (26 percent) were refusing to back Trump, according to Vox. In contrast, just 29 of the 247 House members the GOP had at that time refused to back Trump (12 percent).

3. The Senate provides more high-profile opportunities for criticism. . . Senators are more well-known, so journalists may choose to ask them their views on issues and quote them more than rank-and-file House members.

4. The House may be more aligned with Trump on issues. . .The House Freedom Caucus. . .is closer to Trump than other parts of Congress are. . .The House also seems to have something of a Fox News-wing.

5. Paul Ryan may support Trump more than Mitch McConnell. . . House Speaker Paul Ryan, perhaps compensating for his disavowal of Trump during the campaign, regularly defends the president now. . . McConnell is setting a tone that senators should challenge Trump when they see fit and Ryan is not.

FiveThirtyEight leaves out the most important difference. Thanks to Gerrymandering, House districts are drawn to give incumbents the most radical partisans in their district, so the representative must voice that radicalism. By contrast, senators have to please voters across the entire state, which are, of course, more moderate.

Goethe Behr: Goethe Behr is a Contributing Editor and Moderator at Election Central. He started out posting during the 2008 election, became more active during 2012, and very active in 2016. He has been a political junkie since the 1950s and enjoys adding a historical perspective.