OPINION: Congress Should Focus Less On Investigating And More On Legislating

Mike Howell | Heritage Foundation

President Trump’s call to end politicized investigations has struck a major nerve with the far left and its media allies. When Trump said “if there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he took square aim at the far left’s desire to paint the administration in the most negative light — even if they have to manipulate the congressional process to do so.

Liberals and the media don’t want the public to know this, of course. They’d prefer for citizens to go along with the charade that these are legitimate and fact-based inquiries.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took Trump’s words to be “an all-out threat” and mischaracterized his statement: “He said he wasn’t going to cooperate unless we didn’t exercise our constitutional responsibility to oversight.” Senate Minority Leader Schumer took it one step further and said that the president “has something to hide.”

It’s never a good sign when the investigator reveals the conclusion before the investigation begins. Neither of the Democrat leaders took time to agree that politicized investigations are bad for our country. And neither attempted to distinguish neutral programmatic oversight in order to improve legislation from partisan investigations of specific fact patterns or people to punish or embarrass.

This isn’t surprising, of course. Democrats have been licking their chops and preparing the subpoena cannon since they took back control of the House. Knowing that their radical base demands a pound of flesh and that any legislative compromise would be tantamount to surrender, they see politicized investigations as their best and only chance to demonstrate action and keep their increasingly polarized caucus united.

They hope that the constant misinformation and allegation peddling will muddy the waters and fill the congressional calendar until the next election cycle. Pelosi knows that calling for hard votes on far left fantasy programs such as Medicare for All and The Green New Deal will expose the fractures in her caucus. She knows that her best chance of success is to unite the caucus around the one thing on which they agree: hatred of the President and a commitment to obstruction.

That goal can’t be attained legislatively, in the jobs these lawmakers were sent to Washington to do, so instead they plan to turn House into a theatre to display their distaste for the president. This warping of the legislative branch into a non-legislative entity is something the Founders never imagined, and would never have supported.

Congressional oversight and investigations isn’t exactly the area of clear-cut law that many lawmakers pretend it to be. In fact, when lawmakers reflexively say that the Founders intended the system to work this way, they ignore that the Founders made no mention of the concept of oversight and investigations. In reality, the Founders designed a system where legislators legislate. Later interpretations of the Constitution found the inherent power for lawmakers to obtain information from the Executive branch for the purpose of legislation.

But what happens when legislation is no longer a lawmaker’s purpose, and their purpose is instead revenge and invective? If the administration stiffens its spine and refuses to take part in this circus, then we may discover some meaningful constitutional limits of congressional “oversight.”

As a practical matter, Trump’s axiomatic statement shouldn’t surprise anyone. Everyone should agree that politicized investigations are bad. A Democrat who despises Trump is unlikely to conduct an investigation that anyone will trust. And the reverse is true if the shoe was on the other foot. If the legislative body prioritizes ridiculous partisan investigations, then the window for productive legislation shrinks dramatically.

Partisan investigations have proved to be a terrible tool for actual fact-finding and an even worse one for producing legislative results. The far left may feel justified in employing these dirty tactics, but they would be wise, and the country would be better off, if they instead chose peace and legislation.

Mike Howell is a senior adviser for Executive Branch Relations at The Heritage Foundation. He served as an attorney for the chief oversight committees of the House and Senate and was a political appointee who handled congressional inquiries for the Homeland Security Department.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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