Congress & The Mundane Scandals to Come
Somewhat to my own amazement, the Krehbelian analysis that Congress will not repeal Obamacare continues to hold up. It just died in spectacular fashion, on the Senate floor in the dead of night, the type of spectacle that’s not supposed to happen.* The relevance of McCubbins’ work got me thinking about another sleeping dog that won’t be pretty when it wakes up – Congressional oversight. McCubbins’ theory is that, basically, Congress acts as a “fire alarm” – it tends to lie pretty much dormant but activates with a vengeance when something goes wrong, blame needs to be laid, and fingers get pointed.
The expanding Russia scandal aside, the Trump administration will create tremendous numbers of scandals. Think of the Bush-era Minerals Management Services scandal, with Interior workers doing cocaine and cavorting with prostitutes in exchange for contracts, but much much worse. The criminal negligence the Administration has shown towards ethics, conflict of interests, and staff competency virtually guarantees the next few years will be marked by enormous wrongdoing at virtually all levels of government. And unlike the Russia scandal, there is little incentive for Republicans in Congress to run interference for the Administration here.
When these inevitable scandals arise, it will provide an opportunity for Congressional Republicans to make themselves look good, at the expense of the President, but without taking him on directly. When it turns out that some Trump flunky has been accepting bribes from the Chinese in order to rig trade negotiations (choose your own nonsense adventure here), it will be a very big deal. The President will either have to sit silently by and fume or try to defend these aides/Cabinet secretaries at great political expense, while Republicans get to polish their images as crusaders for good government. Even if nothing comes close to the guy at the top, it will rightly do enormous damage to his perceived competence.
Who knows – perhaps the President will use his hardheaded business expertise to whip the government into shape. But if I’m betting money, I’d bet a fair bit on something going extremely wrong, like Katrina-level wrong, over the next few years, after which minimal scrutiny reveals a virtually endless well of malfeasance tempered only by incompetence. And I think there’s little chance Trump will find Congress willing to act as his lawyer in the court of law or the court of public opinion.
*: The majority party doesn’t call votes it’s going to lose. Citation: all Congress scholars, though I suppose Cox & McCubbins most prominently.