Just over a week ago, Democratic leadership was brushing off the possibility of impeaching Trump again for his attempts to overturn the election. Then, on Wednesday, everything changed. Following a rally at which President Trump whipped his supporters into a frenzy, the mob of right wing extremists and white supremacists overtook the Capitol building and briefly ground the electoral college certification to a halt. As horrifying as the day’s events were, it soon became clear that they could have been much worse; many of the insurrectionists clearly came ready to take hostages (or worse).
The events made what should have already been obvious excruciatingly clear: every day that Trump is in office is a dangerous one for this country.
After watching Democrats pass up opportunity after opportunity to hold Trump accountable, it is heartening to hear so many voices rallying around the need for action in the wake of this latest, horrifying violation. There’s still a small contingent urging restraint but, unlike in the past, they’re largely being drowned out. Efforts, for example, to slow impeachment in order not to interfere with President-elect Biden’s earliest priorities have largely fallen flat. Biden himself has suggested that by splitting the Senate’s day in two - half for impeachment and half for regular business - there need not be a tradeoff. (Hopefully, this belated recognition that parliamentary rules should not be an excuse for inaction will last beyond this particular, dark episode in our history.)
Of course, that qualified praise aside, Democrats could and should have moved faster than they did to hold the President accountable. Members had articles of impeachment ready by the time the Capitol was cleared of insurrectionists and they were able to return to the certification process. Delaying for a week and sending members home added nothing to Democrats’ case because no greater case for the President’s removal could have been made than what lawmakers witnessed and experienced Wednesday. Waiting for the Cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment -- always a pipedream -- was just an excuse for inaction.
Still, by the end of the day today, it seems likely that the House will have impeached Trump an unprecedented second time. That begs the question, what comes next? Some will likely assume that their work is done but that could not be further from the truth. A whole suite of complementary accountability-focused tasks should be on House lawmakers’ agenda. There is the matter of voting to remove the lawmakers who incited violence and sedition. There are also steps that they can take to ensure that those who participated or encouraged the attempted coup are barred from public office in the future.
In addition, Wednesday’s events underlined, once and for all, the importance of looking backwards to fix the damage that Trump and his associates have caused and hold those responsible accountable. Lawmakers cannot ignore these issues and expect them to go away. It is time for a thorough, spirited investigation that leaves no stone unturned. Lawmakers must examine every changed rule, personnel practice, budgetary decision, office reorganization, and on and on. Only through this sort of careful look at the past can we hope to see the sorts of long-term solutions that will allow the country to meaningfully move forward.
Accountability, of course, is not just a task for Congress.
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While the vast majority of Trump appointees will leave with Trump, a handful will remain until Biden explicitly asks them to resign. These figures—including the IRS Director, US Attorneys, and the FBI Director—will be few in number but very powerful. Biden cannot afford to leave them in place, even if removing them goes against his bipartisan instincts. As we made clear last week in a memo, any official who has passed the Trump administration’s loyalty tests and chosen to remain despite everything Trump has done, is no longer fit for public service. The FBI’s failure to take seriously the threat of an attempted coup has merely underscored the need for all of Trump’s appointees - even relatively well-liked ones like Chris Wray -- to go.
The Biden administration must also remain attentive to the possibility that the Trump administration will have left behind loyalists in career roles. We know for a fact that a handful of figures have “burrowed in” through traditional means. Trump’s schedule F executive order opens up the possibility for a larger scale installation of loyalists. It also seems possible that the Trump administration has replicated and expanded on the George W. Bush administration’s politicization of career hiring processes at the Department of Justice (DOJ). Understanding the extent of possible corruption will be key to developing plans to manage and reverse its effects, just as it was for the Obama administration’s DOJ.
We won’t dwell this week on Biden’s latest batches of nominees and appointees, but if you’re curious, you can find more information about many of them on our website and at No Corporate Cabinet. It’s not just complaints from us this week, we also offer praise for Biden picks like William Burns at Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Gary Gensler at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). And while last week saw the completion of Biden’s Cabinet, there are also still many consequential positions to be filled. You can expect another transition update very soon and can always get a sense of the many positions that remain by looking at our Personnel Map.
The Georgia Senate runoff results prompted exuberant (if cruelly short-lived) celebration. Onlookers cheered the new, sunny prospects for $2000 checks, additional COVID relief, a $15 minimum wage, climate action, and much, much more. After having spent many months looking at the sad state of government capacity, we here at the Revolving Door Project celebrated the potential for a new influx of resources to beleaguered institutions that have been suffering for decades but, particularly, under Trump. Agency funding and personnel levels may not be the sexiest of topics, but as we lay out in a recent blog post, they are prerequisites for many of the programs that progressives and good government groups advocate for.
With that in mind, we laid out a handful of priorities for the new Congress to consider. These include increasing funding levels at many agencies in line with the population growth trendline behind which the government has decidedly lagged, instituting new ethics reforms, bringing a great deal of government contracting in house (and raising the standards for work that continues to be contracted out), and more.
We also call on Congress to increase its own budget so that it is prepared for the onslaught of worthy demands it will soon face. For too long, congressional funding has stagnated even as the country, the economy, and the list of issues Congress must understand and act on grows. Without sufficient resources, congressional staffers and members must rely more heavily on lobbyists for research and policy advice. And sometimes, that lack of resources becomes an excuse for inaction.
Indeed, faced with the deluge of demands that is incoming, many lawmakers will be tempted to insist that they do not have the capacity to manage them all. Such evasions should be rejected. Congress can and should raise its budget such that it has the staff and technological capacity to address our overlapping crises and to build a more resilient governing infrastructure moving forward.