Below is my column in the Hill on the increasingly divisive rhetoric and action taken on Capitol Hill. Instead of finding a way between greater unity, many try to build muscle through extreme measures that only further exacerbate and deepen our divisions. The media from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times have published editorials promoting aggressive measures to secure control of the Senate, including the end of filibuster. This step would turn any vote into a muscle game – to profound changes in a country that is clearly divided and is looking for political compromises.
Here is the column:
There are times when a law professor ruins everything. You go to a great movie with your wife and get a sharp elbow after whispering in the theater that the character really can’t question such a witness. Or maybe you watch a soccer game with friends and try to explain that the cameraman who was wiped out by walking back would have a great case.
The inauguration is no different than when Chief Justice John Roberts disregarded the wording of the oath on President Barack Obama. Then, this week, in the middle of one of the most beautiful initiations in history, I fixated on Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) Announces that she will be the first person to call Joe Biden “Mister President.” She was factually and constitutionally wrong. Biden had been sworn into office early, about ten minutes to noon, and Chief Justice Roberts had just given him “Mr. President. “But the real President was in Florida at this point: Donald Trump legal would stay in office for ten minutes after the 20th amendment.
It’s going to be a funny little thing for constitutionalists, but it was also significant. Everyone in Washington, including many in the Republican leadership, was a little too eager to start the Biden administration and end Trump. However, it should also be a cautionary story. Democrats are moving aggressively to build muscle through an ambitious agenda in Congress that can raise serious constitutional issues and create even greater political divisions.
After noon, the real President Biden went to work on a series of executive orders. In the first two days, Biden signed nearly three dozen new executive orders, ranging from stopping undocumented deportations to expanding student loan payments freezes, from requiring them to wear masks to ensuring transgender children’s access to bathrooms and sports are enough. Some of these implementing regulations, if implemented directly, could be challenged in court. However, Trump and other modern presidents have increasingly used such orders to set new priorities and guidelines.
What is happening on Capitol Hill is far more worrying. Democratic leaders are pushing Biden to act unilaterally, as is President Obama in the face of a divided Congress. Obama actually used his State of the Union address to explain his intention to bypass the legislature after it refused to pass his laws on areas such as the environment and immigration.
Majority Leader of the Senate Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) and other Democrats have urged Biden to simply cancel student debts of up to $ 50,000 per student to wipe out the billions in debt and potential federal revenue. This is a major unilateral decision as national debt nears $ 28 trillion – a decision made without debate or deliberation. (In fairness, students will be knocked down by such debts during the pandemic, and more importantly, Congress previously conferred broad authority on debt management on the Secretary of Education.)
Other calls for broad new choices, from immigration to the distribution of wealth, are more worrying. Democrats insist they won both Houses and the White House, and as President Obama once said, “elections have ramifications.” However, that choice was not an overwhelming victory or an endorsement. Rather, it shows a country that is practically divided in the middle. While voters clearly opposed Trump and his controversial leadership, they voted broadly for Republicans. The House has seen a significant loss of democratic seats and has one of the smallest majorities in modern history. The Senate is literally split in half, and a majority is only possible if Vice President Harris votes to break ties.
Obviously, voters did not support the agenda of the far left and many appear to have preferred a divided government. However, many leftists do not want to wait for a broader mandate to implement sweeping changes. They’re pushing for the District of Columbia to be made a state, and likely adding a majority of two votes for Democrats in the Senate. At the same time an attempt is made to terminate the filibuster. Many Democrats are calling on Schumer to end this longstanding protection of minority rights in the Senate. Schumer has refused to guarantee that he will protect the filibuster tradition, despite demanding that it be maintained for years of Republican Senate control.
In both houses, the Democrats are calling for the possible expulsion of colleagues who voted against the votes before the January 6 uprising in the Capitol. I have spoken out against this campaign challenge – but it was not a “riot” or “insurrection” to vote for it. Federal law explicitly provides for such challenges, and the Democrats have faced ever greater challenges in recent elections. These calls indicate a leadership crisis in a country that remains a political powder keg. We have seen extreme violence on both the left and the right for four years, from Portland to Washington. The inauguration took place on January 6, due to the uprising of the extreme right, amid 25,000 National Guard troops, followed by riots in various cities of the extreme left. The riots continued in different states this week.
Despite a choice that clearly advocated compromise and shared power, leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) And others are firing divisions. Representative. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Mikie Sherrill (DN.J.) and others have accused colleagues of possibly offering tours to “insurgents” prior to the uprising in order to provide (in Sherrill’s words) “clarification for the next day”. (The group Sherrill saw were allegedly a representative’s own family.) When faced with such whimsical allegations, Pelosi insisted that Republicans were known to have given “help and comfort” to those who wanted to destroy the country. These words derive from the treason provision of the constitution. Such ruthless rhetoric and actions show that the leaders of Congress are trying to capitalize on our divisions, not to cure them.
The greater concern, however, is the complete silence of Biden, who spoke of healing the nation but did little to seek unity. He could, for example, declare support for the filibuster, which he vigorously defended as a senator – but he didn’t. That would take real leadership to endorse a rule that makes things harder for you but could enforce real compromise and national healing. Many were eager – a little too eagerly – to proclaim Biden president on inauguration day. Now he has to show that there was a good reason for her hope. To show that he is not just a different politician, but a president who sees our divisions as a threat to our entire nation. He has to lead.
Jonathan Turley is Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online at JonathanTurley.