Two weeks ago, the Associated Press reported that President Trump deployed unidentified agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to Portland, Ore., where they were filmed getting out of unmarked vehicles and abducting protesters off the street.
A few days later, House Democrats responded by obediently advancing an appropriations bill that funds the department -- with no apparent restrictions on such deployments.
“This bill as a whole will strengthen our security and keep Americans safe while upholding our American values of fairness and respect,” said Democratic House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, amid growing outrage at the situation in Oregon.
With congressional Democrats on their way to approving $50 billion for DHS, Trump administration officials are now boasting about their plans to replicate the Portland invasion in other cities. Those officials seem emboldened to ignore local Democratic opposition to the federal deployments.
“I don’t need invitations by state mayors or state governors to do our job -- we’re going to do that whether they like us there or not,” Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf defiantly declared on Fox News this morning.
While it is true that the current Homeland Security funding bill has a few good things in it (it rejects funding for Trump’s border wall), the larger point is clear: Once again, while Democrats issue press releases telling America they really want to stop Trump, and while Democrats actually have a huge amount of power to do just that, they often refuse to use that power. They clearly expect nobody to mind the yawning gap between their #Resistance rhetoric and their lack of action -- even as the White House now openly threatens to ignore federal laws.
This isn’t some isolated incident. We’ve seen this act over and over again: Democrats slam Trump’s authoritarianism and corporatism, while pushing to give him more police power and rubber-stamping his corporate bailouts.
Indeed, at times it almost seems as if Democrats are engaging in deliberate performance art to try to dare us to care about this bait and switch -- as if they really cannot believe we are all this ignorant or asleep to not even notice the swindle.
In the Portland conflict, just consider the behavior of Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Bennie Thompson -- three of the most powerful lawmakers in the House. As chairs of key committees, they have the subpoena authority to mount serious investigations of the executive branch. Literally, that’s their most basic oversight responsibilities, which are especially critical in situations like this when an agency has reportedly created a secret task force that may be overstepping its legal authority.
Maloney this weekend acknowledged the gravity of the situation, declaring that what’s going on in Portland “is fascism, and it cannot stand.”
Those are strong words -- but Maloney then boasted that she, Nadler and Thompson are standing up to the fascism by… sending a sternly worded letter to two executive branch inspectors general asking them to look into the situation.
“This letter is step #1 in stopping it,” she asserted, without a hint of sarcasm.
This is beyond learned helplessness -- this is a deliberate refusal to do the absolute minimum part of the job of oversight, at a moment when the president appears to be using federal resources in an unprecedented way.
These are chairpeople in a coequal branch of government who say they understand the imminent threat of fascism and who could be issuing subpoenas and launching hearings, but who are instead sending sternly worded letters with no force of law, and then publicly congratulating themselves.
Maybe with enough pressure, we will see Democrats like Maloney and other chairpeople actually start taking their jobs seriously. Maybe with enough screaming, they will actually issue subpoenas or hold hearings.
But why should it take a mass mobilization to get these people to do the most minimal parts of their jobs?
Indeed, if House Democrats are going to spend tens of millions dollars to win control of a chamber of Congress and then refuse to use their power to stop Trump, then we should be asking them the same question that the Bobs asked Tom Smykowski in the film Office Space:
What would you say you do here?
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