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June 25, 2019

The long-awaited Mueller report:

For almost two years, Washington was consumed with watching and waiting for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to issue his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election – even though almost every poll showed that only political Washington was paying attention to the ongoing investigation.

Republicans and the Trump Administration claimed, and hoped, that the Mueller report would finally and definitively clear the President and his campaign of any wrong-doing. Democrats claimed, and hoped, that the report would provide clear evidence that the President had committed impeachable offenses. And every neutral observer hoped and prayed that once the report was released the whole mess would finally be put behind us, so we could all move on.

So when the report was at long last made public –

  • The President claimed he was fully exonerated
  • Democrats claimed it proved Trump committed impeachable offenses
  • Congressman Justin Amash became the first Republican to call for impeachment
  • Liberal legal icon Alan Dershowitz joined those who condemned the report
  • Attorney General Barr announced that the report proved no Trump collusion, and that he was going to investigate possible misconduct on the part of the investigators
  • In a stunning move, Mueller held a press conference to contradict the AG’s description of the report’s conclusion
  • Republicans, who had clamored for two years for an end to the investigation, cheered on the AG’s continued investigation
  • Democrats, who had clamored for two years for the “transparency” the investigation would produce, called for an end to the new investigation

And for the majority of Americans who just wanted politicians to talk about something OTHER than the Russia investigation and the Mueller report, there was no relief in sight.

In polarized America, the partisan and political divisions remain intense:

So as the country starts to focus on the 2020 presidential election – and isn’t it really too early for this? – we have not gotten past the hyper-partisanship that dominated American politics during the bitter 2016 campaign. The Trump Administration remains as unorthodox as ever, Democrats remain obsessed with the President to the exclusion of almost everything else, and American voters – who never saw the Russia investigation as very relevant to their lives – seem angrier than ever.

With Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 mid-term elections, Democratic Committee chairs now have oversight authority over the executive branch, and are investigating the President, his family and virtually every aspect of his Administration. They have issued multiple dozens of subpoenas, held multiple hearings, and in June the full House voted to hold Attorney General Barr and other Administration officials in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas.

The number of Democratic elected officials and candidates joining the call to take up impeachment proceedings against the President continues to grow. According to a CNN report in late June, 73 House Democrats have announced support for at least beginning an impeachment investigation. Add to them more than half a dozen of the 685 (well, actually 23 at this time) Democrat candidates for President.

Democrats freely use overheated rhetoric to describe the President, calling him corrupt, criminal, unethical, even “delusional.” The voice of restraint in the Democrat party on impeachment today is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, once seen as a leading liberal icon. The Speaker is struggling to keep her caucus together, but radicals in her caucus – for whom Queens Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become the leading voice – make her task almost impossible. As the Tea Party demanded ideological purity of Republican leaders a decade ago, the ideological left demands it of Democratic leaders today.

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans often seem disconcerted by the President’s unconventional behavior and attempt to distance themselves from his endless – and too often inappropriate or offensive – tweets. But most in the GOP refrain from directly criticizing him, even when he initiates policies that are antithetical to tradition GOP positions – tariffs and trade for example. Seeing tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters gather at Trump rallies and knowing his support can often make or break a candidate is no doubt a factor in the GOP establishment silence.

Unfortunately for both the Speaker and the Republicans, President Trump does nothing to calm the troubled waters; to the contrary, he seems to delight in fanning the flames of his opponents’ hostility and raising alarm bells among Republicans. Remember when he called Democrats “Un-American” and possibly “treasonous” for not applauding his 2018 State of the Union Address? His rhetoric hasn’t softened. In his 2020 campaign announcement speech in Orlando in June, the President minced no words in describing the Democrats:

Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage.
They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country, as we know
it…. the Democrat Party has become more radical, more dangerous and more
unhinged than at any point in the modern history of our country … Democrats
are more extreme and more depraved when it comes to border security…

So the 2020 election draws closer, the Democratic presidential debates begin in earnest, the President continues his – arguably not very presidential – campaign rallies . . . and we can anticipate no respite from the overheated partisanship and rhetoric.

Partisan gridlock in Washington, must-pass legislation, even some accomplishments:

Legislative accomplishments are likely to be few and far between for the rest of this year, but Congress does have a couple of must-pass measures to handle. Spending bills must be dealt with before the end of the fiscal year (September 30) to avoid another government shutdown. And the government will again reach a limit on the amount of debt it can incur, requiring a “debt limit extension” to be passed by Congress and signed by the President.

But absent an unexpected outbreak of the bipartisanship necessary to pass legislation, the House Democratic majority will focus its attention and energy on oversight, investigations, and possible impeachment proceedings. And the Senate Republicans will continue Leader Mitch McConnell’s determined confirmation of every judicial nomination sent up by the President.

The Judiciary: Thanks to that determination, the most lasting legacy of the Trump Administration will be his decades-long impact on the Federal judiciary. In the first two years of the Trump Administration, the Senate confirmed 85 judges – 53 to the District Courts, 30 to the Circuit Courts of Appeals, and 2 Supreme Court justices. So far this year, another 29 District Court and 11 Circuit Court judges have been confirmed. Significantly, there are currently 127 vacancies, giving the President and Leader McConnell the opportunity to double the 125 confirmations before the end of this Congress. And another Supreme Court vacancy is not impossible.

The economy: The economy has grown measurably in the last 2 ½ years, with consistent job creation and record-low unemployment. Both business and consumer confidence have been strong. It should be noted, however, that the income gap and wealth inequality continue to be troubling issues, as evidenced by the GOP losses in the 2018 mid-term elections despite the strong economic numbers. The wealth/income gap is a rallying cry for the Democrats heading into the 2020 election, with left-wing voices in the Democratic Party openly calling for government control of the economy and income/wealth re-distribution.

Regulatory reform and relief: A major factor contributing to the strong economy is significant regulatory reform. The President instructed his departments and agencies to reverse the regulatory overreach of the Obama Administration where possible and to promulgate new regulations only when and where necessary. (See NAW’s separate Issue Brief on the Regulatory Agenda.)

Other issues: In addition to the very high-profile items noted above, the list of accomplishments and actions taken by the Trump Administration is impressive – and very business-friendly.  Among them:

  • The appointment of pro-business members of the National Labor Relations Board began the process of reversing the actions of 8 years of pro-labor Obama Boards (See NAW’s separate Issue Brief on Labor); and
  • The most significant tax bill in decades was signed into law at the end of December 2018 (See NAW’s separate Issue Brief on Taxes).