John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Checks and Balances

Posted on June 13, 2017

I preferred an incompetent Donald Trump to a fully competent Hillary Clinton, which is why I voted for the Republican over the Democrat in the last election.

Clinton would have continued the status quo, would have continued the leftward drift of the Obama administration, would have continued and consolidated executive branch power.

She would have worked well with some Republicans but all of the deals she would have cut would have been on her terms, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) looking over her left shoulder. I voted for Donald Trump for president, knowing full well his inadequacies and weaknesses as a politician and as a person.

I have not been terribly surprised by the result. I didn’t expect Trump to magically transform himself into a towering statesman after he got himself sworn in as president. I knew he would make mistakes, commit gaffes, embarrass himself and the office on occasion, and otherwise do things that I wouldn’t have done had I been in a similar position.

But I voted for Trump because I believed that the status quo was so calcified, so impregnable and so toxic, that something drastic had to change. We needed a disruptor in office, somebody who would take the normal conventions and turn them on their head.

I wanted somebody non-ideological. I wanted a businessman who would shake the bureaucracy to its core. I wanted somebody who would challenge our allies out of their complacency and somebody who would bring a realpolitik to traditional adversaries.

Trump’s personal characteristics haven’t surprised me that much, although I did think he could better control his impulses to tweet. If Twitter had gone out of business on Jan. 20, most of the president’s self-inflicted wounds would have been avoided.

I also thought that the Republican Congress would have done a better job taking advantage of this historic opportunity to get legislation passed. Republicans need to focus less on what the president says and more on what he signs.

He should have signed legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare by now. I blame the House Freedom Caucus for this failure, although blame is easily shared by other parties.

Job-creating tax cuts should be much farther along in the process. The president won his campaign based on his promise to create better paying jobs. His tax plan is central to that promise. I know it takes some time to get consensus on this kind of complicated issue. But time is wasting.

Looking back on the election, it seems clear to me that the concerns of many pundits that Donald Trump would be some sort of Mussolini-like autocrat were ridiculous. Trump might be a mercantilist, but he is not a fascist.

Our institutions are strong enough to provide adequate checks and balances on any president who has aims on being a dictator.

What our institutions are not strong enough to do, apparently, is enact positive change.

Throughout our nation’s history, the legislative and executive branches of our government have vied for supremacy. In our early days, it was the presidents who had the power. From Washington to Jackson, presidents set the agenda, set the tone and made the history. In the mid-19th century, Congress had the upper hand as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun were ones critical to keeping the nation from devolving into civil war.

That trend continued in the 20th century. During the Great Depression, the Second World War and at the outset of the Cold War, it was the executive branch that reigned supreme. After Watergate, the Congress reasserted its authority. After Reagan and stretching to the first Clinton term, Congress and the White House battled for supremacy, neither side willing to defer to the other.

What we have today is not two branches battling it out for supremacy. What we have here is an unfortunate race to the bottom to see who could be more unpopular with the voters.

I am all for disruption, but the Republicans need to focus on putting some points on the board. The voters are concerned about checks and balances alright: the size of their paychecks and the balances in their bank accounts. Focusing on making both of those bigger for the voters would be a good place to focus for the next several months.

(This originally appeared in The Hill)