Hang on to your hats, folks! Yesterday, the new Congress was sworn in, and amidst the first-day activities — which featured an ill-considered effort by House Republicans to change the powers of an ethics investigative unit, that was abruptly reversed in the face of criticism from the media, Democrats, and Donald Trump — we started to get a sense of what might be coming in the next few months, after the new President is sworn in, too.
Two things seem pretty clear. First, President-elect Trump and the Republicans in Congress are serious about taking aim at some parts of President Obama’s agenda. Second, some of the methods used by the Democrats over the last eight years to implement that agenda are now ready to be used by Republicans to reverse course.
For example, President Obama has been very active in setting policy through executive orders, rather than by obtaining changes through the congressional process. In fact, the President is continuing to issue executive orders and probably will continue to do so until the Trump Administration takes office. Similarly, the Obama Administration has issued regulatory guidance that changes the prevailing approach in a number of areas. But what can be achieved through executive orders also can be undone by executive orders, and the Trump Administration has indicated that it plans to do precisely that.
In short, because President Obama was unable to convince Congress to enact many of his policy initiatives, those initiatives are ready to be changed at the stroke of a pen. President Obama recognizes this; in fact, he recently urged Trump to try to govern through legislation, rather than executive order, for this very reason. Republicans said President Obama’s advice against overuse of executive orders was “ironic,” but in any case it is clear that many of his executive orders are going to be reversed when President Trump takes office. We don’t know yet exactly how extensive the changes will be, but don’t be surprised if the coverage of Trump’s first day in office includes footage of him signing a series of executive orders to change Obama Administration policies.
You’ll also recall that, during the Obama Administration, the Democrats who controlled the Senate exercised the “nuclear option” and changed certain internal rules about how many votes were needed to overcome filibusters. Now New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the new head of Senate Democrats, regrets that the Democrats took that action — because it will make it tougher for Democrats to oppose and block confirmation of Trump’s selections for positions in his Cabinet.
It’s all pretty predictable. You can think about chickens coming home to roost, sauce for the goose and sauce for the gander, and what goes around coming around — but the reality is that, with the pendulum swings we’ve seen in voting for President and for the Congress, anything that isn’t enacted into law through the legislative process contemplated by the Constitution will be immediately subject to change when the power shifts again, and that every procedural maneuver used to further one side’s agenda will be hauled out and used anew when the other side takes over.
It’s not a good way to govern.