Frank DeFilippo: Time for Democrats to Get Tough

U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Flickr Photo

In Washington, D.C., the newly repopulated Democrats and the proportionately diminished Republicans are behaving like two dogs, circling and sniffing, trying to decide whether to make love or war.

And in Annapolis, by contrast, life is buttery as Gov. Larry Hogan (R) oozes on as if he’s still living unbothered in one of his smarmy (and effective) campaign commercials, though Democrats are still boss by the numbers.

So here’s a novel idea for Democrats now that they’ve regained power: Get tough and get even.

Stop all the slobbery talk about bipartisanship and hands across the aisle and give the American people the checks and balances they voted for. And shove the proctoscope right back to Republicans the same way they applied it to you. Stop playing nice.

It was President John F. Kennedy who memorably popularized the phrase, “Don’t get mad, get even.” And now it’s time we discover whether Democrats have learned one of the fundamentals of politics from someone who practiced what he preached. When you’ve got power, use it.

Nobody does tough better than Nancy Pelosi. The once-and-future House speaker is the original iron first in a velvet glove. When the nation’s interests are at stake, do what’s best for the country. When the game is partisan politics, break out the brass knuckles.

Pelosi, nee D’Alesandro, born and schooled in back-alley politics in Baltimore’s Little Italy, is about to reclaim the speakership she lost eight years ago when, in the back-time words of President Obama, the Democrats took “a shellacking.” Democrats picked up 28 House seats (and still counting) in the mid-terms to re-take majority control. Pelosi will have more than 100 women with her in the House. (Republicans gained two Senate seats and retain majority control, though two races are still unresolved.)

A word of advice to the rambunctious new members who want to push the 78-year-old Pelosi aside for a younger leader: If you’re going to shoot the leader, best you not miss. It can get terribly lonely in a crowd of 435.

With Pelosi as speaker, Maryland Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D) as her likely second in-command majority leader and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) as House Operations and Government Reform Committee chairman, Maryland will be in good position to protect what it has and gain what it wants.

In Annapolis, blood-sport is unnecessary; a veto override will do. So it’s amusing to watch Hogan, newly-elected to a second term, embrace Democrats as if they’re his partners and push off Trump as the pariah that he is in Maryland.

Hogan is in line to assume the chairmanship of the National Governors Association in July. He has hinted that he will use that national bullhorn to speak out against Trump and be in the vanguard of GOP officials who will attempt to reclaim the Republican Party from Trump.

Hogan will have less compatible company than in the past four years. Republicans lost six governorships (Democrats picked up more than 300 legislative seats and a majority of attorneys general) in last week’s elections, bringing to near parity the balance of governors between parties – 26 Republicans and 23 Democrats, with Georgia not called and the results in Florida now being questioned.

As for Trump, he has already threatened the new majority House Democrats with reprisals if they attempt to investigate or impeach him, as they have. With his customary bombast and bluster, Trump said at his uproarious post-election new conference: “They can play that game, but we can play it better. If that happens, then we’re going to do the same thing and government would come to a halt and we’re going to blame them.”

Frank A. DeFilippo

Moments later, Trump fired his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and replaced him with a toady, Matthew Whitaker, threatening to shut down, or at least blunt, Robert G. Mueller’s investigation into Russian mischief in the 2016 election. Sorry, Mr. President, but the House has investigative powers of its own, including subpoena power and demands for documents, including tax returns, which might prove that Trump is not as wealthy as he claims.

Trump’s dismissive explanation: “People don’t understand tax returns.”

Try us.

No such hostility or petulance prevails in Annapolis. Hogan has proven to be a nimble politician whose hallmark is that he does no harm. His forward thinking involves cutting taxes and improving schools. Now who can quarrel with those generalizations until the devilish details are known?

Hogan begins his second term with a humongous pile of surplus cash. But he’s also staring at the Kirwan Commission report on education and another of those pesky structural deficits the following year. And early reports suggest that Kirwan’s recommendations will include a pre-K program that is essentially day-care from cradle to college. The cost has not yet been revealed.

Hogan’s toughest fight no doubt will be congressional redistricting. Simply put, the court has ordered the ministers of influence in Annapolis to draw a new map by March or the court will appoint a commission to do it for them.

The legal point of the order is to redress grievances involving the westward 6th District in Maryland’s panhandle. (The seat was just won solidly by Democrat David Trone.) The new map would be in effect for the 2020 elections, two years ahead of is normal schedule in 2022, following the 2020 census.

But – and this is a significant but – the order can be appealed to the Supreme Court, which has been reluctant to intrude in redistricting cases and has previously refused to rule on the 6th District issue. Attorney General Brian Frosh (D), newly reelected, has the ruling under study.

One problem is that the Constitution is vague on redistricting. The document’s only guideline is that there shall be 435 congressional districts of roughly equal population. The rest has been left to the imaginations and machinations of the states, with both parties exploiting power-plays as they arise.

The Democratic hierarchs in Washington have already sketched out an agenda. Pelosi has said Democrats will work with Trump on rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and lowering drug prices, both viewed as nonpartisan mutual goals.

There the interest in helping-hands ends. The rest is the expansive Democratic agenda of tighter gun controls, voters’ rights and other social issues. But paramount is the protection, and, if possible, the enhancement of the Affordable Care Act, the Democrats’ campaign rallying cry and unifying issue.

Democrats plan to investigate a number of areas where they believe Trump has abused the powers of his office. Cummings, for example, is determined to probe whether Trump is benefiting financially from the presidency in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. (A similar case is pending in the courts, filed jointly by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia.)

Add to Trump’s woes that he’s being thumped at every turn by the very federal courts that he’s attempting to pack with conservatives, abetted by the GOP-controlled Senate. The latest setbacks were a halt to construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and a second court order saying Trump cannot immediately and arbitrarily end protections for undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children (DACA).

The sum total of Election Day events – the takeover of the House and the election of Democrats across the country, the preponderance of women ushered into office, the reclaiming of rust belt states by Democrats, the awakening of educated suburban districts to Democrats and the rejection of Trump’s authoritarian mean-streak as well as his mendacity – may indicate the beginning of Trump’s recessional. The 2018 mid-term results could very well be 2020’s foreplay.

At his contentious news conference, Trump was asked if he considers himself a moral leader. His answer:

“I consider myself to be a great moral leader.”

This from a president whose been married three times, accused by at least a dozen women of sexual misconduct, suggested of being a tax cheat, misused his charitable foundation, paid $25 million to settles charges of fraud and misrepresentation by his eponymous real estate university, filed bankruptcy at least four times, cheated contractors out of money on construction projects, stirred nationalistic hatred and anger among susceptible voters and lied or made misleading statements at least 5,000 times since taking office, according to fact checkers. That’s the short list.

Trump made the election a referendum on himself and his presidency and he got exactly what he asked for – a resounding Bronx cheer.

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