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Trump May Be Leaving But The Damage He Caused Isn’t Going Anywhere

A Christmas poem and a plea for congressional oversight in the New Year.

US President Donald Trump tours a Honeywell International Inc. factory producing N95 masks during his first trip since widespread COVID-19 related lockdowns went into effect May 5, 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

US President Donald Trump tours a Honeywell International Inc. factory producing N95 masks during his first trip since widespread COVID-19 related lockdowns went into effect May 5, 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

Twas the week before Christmas
And all through DC
No lawmakers were stirring
Not even Speaker Nancy
Yet a crisis was brewing
All across the land
The post office was struggling
To keep up with demand
The stockings weren't hung
As they'd been delayed
The Republicans didn't care
They were still getting paid. 
Democrats wouldn't fight
To get children their toys
And so Christmas was stolen
by Louis DeJoy

Congressional Oversight

Examples of House Democrats’ failures to take on this administration, from the Postal Service to Schedule F, are piling up almost as fast as delayed Christmas presents this week. It caps off two damaging and politically disappointing years of shrinking from popular fights. For the sake of the country (and perhaps, more convincingly for Pelosi, the House majority), Democrats must resolve to finally confront and challenge Trump’s legacy and its many ongoing effects in 2021.

For a brief moment over the summer, it seemed like House Democrats had finally overcome their aversion to oversight following outcry over service changes and protracted delays at the Postal Service. After a handful of weeks, another message bill, and some mild concessions from Postmaster General DeJoy, however, they soon lost interest. When presented with an opportunity to get more funding to the service via a government funding bill in September, Pelosi demurred, preferring to trade away the caucus’ leverage with yet another “clean” package. Meanwhile, follow-up to ensure that DeJoy upheld his promises appears to have been limited. We’re seeing the effects of that decision now. DeJoy’s changes, alongside spiking coronavirus cases among carriers and above average package volume, are leading to major delays.  

Even after Trump leaves, we’ll be stuck with Louis DeJoy for a while (exactly how long depends on when Biden can get three Democratic governors on the USPS board, either through Senate confirmation or recess appointment). In the meantime, Democrats cannot merely resign themselves to severe, sometimes life-threatening mail delays. Oversight can help ensure service is maintained and, simultaneously, build pressure for DeJoy’s eventual removal. 

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Democrats will also need to be closely monitoring personnel actions and their lasting effects in the Trump administration’s waning days and beyond. So far they have shown little interest. Despite pleas from a broad coalition of good government groups, government unions, and employee associations, Congress failed to include a measure in this week’s government funding bill to withhold funds from Trump’s schedule F executive order. This latest and most blatant of Trump’s attacks on the civil service may leave many senior civil servants at risk of being fired while opening avenues for political appointees to stay on and cause trouble for the next administration. 

It’s not yet clear how far the Trump administration will get with schedule F (they are not, after all, exactly known for their management or logistical prowess). No matter what, however, there is no doubt whatsoever that the incoming administration will face significant obstacles on the level of civil service attrition and politicization. These problems, particularly if left unaddressed, could frustrate Biden’s ability to carry out his mandate and make his administration appear clumsy and inept. As we know, it is the House majority that most often pays for a president’s missteps. 

Examination of these attacks on the civil service should have begun much earlier (as we’ve repeatedly encouraged) but there are, nonetheless, real benefits to digging in now, even this late in the game. The Biden administration will be better-equipped to manage the landmines that Trump has left behind if Congress can help sketch out a map of where they are. Furthermore, drawing attention to their existence will help to direct blame and minimize the political fallout when Biden does stumble upon them. 

None of these should be politically difficult fights. Americans of all stripes love the Postal Service and were outraged to see it come under attack. Democrats should leap at the opportunity to be seen as the one’s defending it. The same goes for fighting on behalf of career civil servants like Anthony Fauci.

Jeff Hauser

Jeff Hauser is the founder and director of the Revolving Door Project, which scrutinizes executive branch appointees to ensure they use their office to serve the broad public interest.

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