Two Lessons in Being President
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Legislating is a long arduous process. It is also the domain of the Congress with the President only proposing and recommending. Whether a President supports, dislikes, or seeks to modify a bill, he needs to resolve it with Congress according to their schedule. Congressional leadership cannot be pushed and the rank and file certainly cannot be railroaded. Like a president, Members of Congress also have to answer to voters. There are frequently policy differences not only with the opposition but from a President’s own party as well, but presidents are expected to understand and respect the system, something that Trump does not want to learn.
President Trump’s conduct on the Healthcare bill is the most obvious evidence of how little he understands about politics. Even if the House bill were to pass, which at this moment seems unlikely, Trump appears dumbfounded that he could not just do what he wanted and cut a deal. Trump is actually frustrated that he might need to walk away from a fight with a loss. It is even more annoying to him that the loss could be suffered at the hands of his own presumed supporters. Unlike the British Parliament, for example, where the Prime Minister can order an incontrovertible three line party whip, neither the Speaker nor the President has that power in the United States. Paul Ryan know that; clearly Trump does not accept that.
Similarly, the President is probably digging himself an enormous hole in how he is addressing Congress’ role in overseeing the conduct of the U.S. Intelligence community. Established formally after Watergate, the bi-partisan leaders as well as Members have access to critical and deeply classified intelligence information, similar to the President. It is not clear that the President as well as even the House Committee chair Devin Nunes respect this fact and role for the Committee. Trump’s inability to admit this fact is consistent with so many other aspects of his ignorance or flaunting of the role of the other two equal branches of Government. House Committee Chairman Nunes, on the other hand, has clearly permitted his political self-interest and loyalty to Trump to supersede what should be his primary commitment to the House and his Committee.
Here again in the long run the President will not succeed. John McCain’s call for an independent committee or an outside Commission to be established to investigate the 2016 election and the Russians involvement in the campaign will eventually be accepted; although it may take some time. Nunes has already demonstrated his incompetence and only a new, refreshed and/or outside group will be able to properly conduct an investigation.
At the end of the day some individuals people will step forward to avoid prosecution or to insure their continued political careers. Neither Trump’s money nor his political bullying ultimately will prevent the Congress and perhaps even the Courts to insure that the truth will win; but it will take time and more mis-steps. Hopefully, the nation will not find itself facing a serious crisis before that moment.