Here’s a bigger threat to Trump than impeachment

By Carl P. Leubsdorf

In recent weeks, Republican leaders have sought to motivate potentially lagging GOP turnout in November’s mid-term elections by hoisting the bloody flag of impeachment, warning that the main goal of a Democratic House would be to launch proceedings to drive Donald Trump from office.

Admittedly, some Democrats openly tout that goal. But the party’s top leaders have made clear it’s not their intention, in part because, at this point, no one can predict if special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe will conclude by accusing Trump of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” needed for impeachment.

A greater likelihood, and perhaps a far greater threat to Trump and the GOP, is that a Democratic House would begin to perform the congressional oversight functions that Republicans have basically ignored after spending the previous six years going after Barack Obama’s Democratic administration.

From the role of industry lobbyists in environmental decisions to the degree to which Trump and his family members may be benefitting financially from his presidency, administration appointees have created a lengthy list of juicy targets for lawmakers interested in probing whether they were serving the public interest — and trying to score political points.

Here are some potential targets:

— The administration’s failure to follow up the intelligence community’s conclusion of alleged Russian interference of the 2016 election by taking steps to prevent it in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

— The role of former industry lobbyists in the Environmental Protection Administration’s decisions to ease restrictions governing such issues as methane emissions from new oil and gas wells, coal ash waste from power plants, and fertilizer runoff into rivers and streams.

— An administration-wide cutback on civil rights enforcement. This includes a reduction in activity by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Housing Secretary Ben Carson’s proposal to postpone requirements for HUD funding recipients to show efforts to overcome racial segregation patterns.

— The administration’s inconsistent implementation of its restrictive immigration policies. In particular, the administration has deported people who, after entering the U.S. illegally many years ago, have been productive citizens with families and without criminal records. Further, the administration has impacted agriculture by limiting migrant farm workers.

— The Department of Health and Human Services’ efforts to implement administrative measures to undercut the protections of the Affordable Care Act to compensate for the Republicans’ failure to repeal it legislatively.

— Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ decision to kill inquiries into alleged fraudulent activities at a for-profit college where several of her top officials had previously been employed.

— The role of lobbyists from energy companies in the decision by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to reduce by 2 million acres the amount of federally protected lands at two national monuments in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. This opened most of the region’s coal deposits and retired oil and gas leases.

— President Trump’s reported orders to the Postmaster General to double postal rates on Amazon because he dislikes the coverage of his administration by The Washington Post, owned by the online retailer’s founder, Jeff Bezos.

— Mishandling of recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. This includes Zinke’s decision to award a no-bid $300 million contract for restoring the island’s damaged electrical power grid to a small Montana firm which proved totally incapable of doing it.

— An array of administration actions eliminating the role of science and scientists in determining public policy, such as Pruitt’s proposed ban on using confidential studies on the impact of environmental rules; the shutting down of specific studies on the effect of salt in children’s lunches and the health impact of certain pesticides; and the elimination of references to the impact of climate change in various government studies.

— The extent to which Trump and members of his family have taken advantage of their positions to benefit financially. For example, Trump-owned facilities have been used for federal meetings and to house security personnel. And some U.S policies facilitated foreign government decisions that could benefit family members, like Qatar’s reported decision to help bail out son-in-law Jared Kushner’s financially ailing New York real estate venture.

Earlier this month, House Speaker Paul Ryan warned at a California conference that, if Republicans lose either the House or Senate, “then you’ll have absolute gridlock. You’ll have gridlock, you’ll have subpoenas, you’ll have just the system shutting down.”

Judging from last week’s farm bill train wreck and the minimal overall legislative record, the system isn’t working too well now, under total GOP control. But there haven’t been many subpoenas, not to mention the kind of oversight Congress should be performing. That’s likely to change dramatically if Democrats win the House or the Senate.

By Carl P. Leubsdorf

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: [email protected]

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: [email protected]