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Drawing the Line With Trump

Some thoughts for congressional Democrats on how to handle the new president.

By Simon Rosenberg | Contributor
Jan. 31, 2017, at 6:00 a.m.

The new Trump presidency is clearly off to a worrisome start. While Democrats are rightly beginning to challenge his policies in Congress, a broader strategy for engaging his blustery, bumbling administration is needed. I offer one possible approach in the form of a letter from congressional Democrats to our new president:

Dear President Trump,

As many on your team have little experience in the executive branch or even in government itself, we wanted to offer four suggestions consistent with how our democracy has worked for many years that will make it more likely that you are a successful president and make it easier for us to work with you:

Stop the Executive Orders — The global chaos created by your late Friday immigration executive order was a good example of needing to slow it down a bit. Your own subject matter experts in relevant department and agencies weren't consulted in the drafting of the highly flawed order. Nor was anyone in Congress. We aren't asking for a permanent stop to executive orders. They have their place. But you are far more likely to succeed if you wait until your government has more people in place, and use traditional interagency processes and consultation with Congress before proceeding. Your team simply is too inexperienced — as are you — to take such far-reaching steps without consulting people who know what they are doing. Given your early miscues, continuing to govern the country through decree will be seen rightly by many as reckless.

Debate Your Proposals in Congress — Perhaps you and your team may not be aware but our system was designed to encourage extensive deliberation of government actions before enactment. Traditionally new initiatives have been packaged into legislation, debated and then voted on. This system allows the people and their representatives a chance to weigh in on their future — the core of how a democracy is supposed to operate.

The way you are proceeding right now — a small number of your staff drafting executive orders without consultation or debate and then you announcing them — is a process more typical of a dictatorship than a democracy. It could be argued that your governing through executive order is exactly the type of imperial behavior our Founding Fathers sought to prevent. Certainly many members of your own party have been making that case, forcefully, for the past several years. You may have made that argument a few times on the stump yourself over the course of your campaign.

Additionally, there is no national crisis right now that would justify obviating traditional democratic norms. The unemployment rate is under 5 percent, incomes have been rising in America for the past four years, our health care system is improving and we are in the process of taking control of our energy destiny. The stock market was at an all-time high when you came to office. While things aren't perfect, we are not even in recession let alone a true economic crisis.

We also face no existential threat from abroad. Our government, contrary to your occasionally hysterical claims, has done a good job at managing our borders. There hasn't been a foreign fighter terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the past decade. There are fewer undocumented immigrants in the country today than a decade ago, and the annual flow across our Southern border is far below what it was. It has been the policy of our government to deport criminals first since 2011, something, it should be noted, your party opposed and voted twice to void over the past several years. Our immigrants are successfully assimilating, and have both relatively low unemployment rates and lower crime rates than native-born Americans. Our global coalition against the Islamic State group had been making significant gains, gains now threatened by a worsening diplomatic row with Iraq caused by your hastily crafted immigration executive order.

Perhaps the most significant, immediate danger America faces is Russia's increasing aggression against the United States and Europe, something that many have pointed out you failed to bring up in your conversation with Vladimir Putin on Saturday.

While there are challenges abroad and here at home, none of these threats warrant a relaxation of democratic norms to tackle.

Divest or Disclose — Your decision to retain ownership of your businesses, and keep the details about your businesses hidden from the public, has no precedent in American history. It is our belief that what you are doing is both unconstitutional and a threat to our national security. In order to gain greater cooperation with us on future matters, we ask that you either immediately divest your holdings, or submit to an independent annual public audit and account of your businesses.

There are many reasons for this request but paramount among them are the national security considerations. If there are things you have done wrong — "bad dudes" you have invested with, dealings with foreign governments not yet disclosed — these things can be exploited by foreign governments, giving them leverage over you and thus the American people. Additionally, we just want to go on the record about what a terrorist magnet your buildings have become, particularly abroad. Maintaining your ownership and name on these buildings implicitly obligates the American government to protect them, or again gives local governments leverage over you. If a local government provides robust protection for your large investment in their country what might they ask for in return?

We are sure you noted the extensive commentary over the weekend about whether you choose the seven countries for your immigration ban in part based on where your businesses lie. Having this issue raised, given how much concern there already is in the country about it, every time you roll out an initiative will be corrosive to your presidency and your ability to govern over time.

It is just clear you must do more to put the interest of the American people you claim to be so concerned about over your own. We ask that you divest or disclose.

Honor Decorum — It is a bit alarming for those of us who have worked in a deliberative democracy to see how comfortable you are with regular, vicious attacks on prominent Americans and institutions. These types of attacks have no place in a democracy where, by design, we have to hammer out agreements among disparate parties to serve the national interest. We expect to disagree with you, but please try harder to honor the presidency and our Congress by following the tradition of not publicly slandering others. As your good friend President Barack Obama often said, you can disagree without being disagreeable.

As Democrats in the House and Senate, we look forward to working with you over the next four years to make our great country even better. We encourage you to embrace our four recommendations. Not only will we be far more likely to cooperate on the things you want, they will make you a far more effective president and servant of the American people.


The Loyal and Determined Opposition

Simon Rosenberg CONTRIBUTOR
Simon Rosenberg is president and founder of the progressive think tank NDN.
A veteran of the 1992 Clinton War Room, Rosenberg is a leading political thinker and commentator.

[OPINION: Donald Trump's Immigrant and Refugee Orders Are a Stain on US History.]


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