Advice to Trump: Hire More Lawyers


President Donald Trump taking questions the day after the midterm elections.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday’s election results: “I’ll be honest: I thought it was a — I thought it was a very close to complete victory.” A better analysis: President Trump, hire more lawyers. You are going to need them.

True, several high-profile Democrats were defeated: Andrew Gillum lost his bid for governor of Florida and Beto O’Rourke failed in his effort to represent Texas in the Senate. And, the Democratic pickup in the House was less than epic, falling short of a tsunami. But, and this is the important “but,” the Democrats did win control of the House, and that means Trump, his family, with their various business and governmental dealings, Trump’s possible collusion with Russia in 2016, and his corrupt administration now, finally, will be subject to congressional oversight. The Democrats will do what supine and cowardly Republicans failed to do: Exercise Congress’ investigative powers to insure that Trump and his cronies no longer run roughshod over the Constitution and the rule of law, and Congress can expose instances of past wrongdoing. Memo to the president: You are going to need a lot of lawyers — a lot!

Call me a cockeyed optimist and a glass half-full kind of guy, but I disagree with Trump: Tuesday was a resounding Democratic success. The full returns are not yet known, but Democrats gained over 30 seats in the House. As an indicator for long-term trends, Democrats won an overwhelming share of the popular vote in House races, likely surpassing, when all the votes are tallied, the Republican waves of 1994, 2010, and 2014. Republicans picked up seats in the Senate, but only a third of upper chamber members were up for re-election and many of those were seats held by Democrats in states Trump won easily in 2016. The House vote totals are a much better indicator of popular disaffection with Trump. The Democratic margin in the House will be less than the popular vote would indicate because of Republican success in gerrymandering to their advantage, of course, many congressional districts. 

Scott Walker was defeated in a run for a third term as governor of Wisconsin.

The geography of the victory may provide a window to the future of Democratic power in Congress and across the country. Democrats recouped some of the losses they suffered in 2016 in traditionally Democratic states. The party scored successes in the industrial upper Midwest, holding Senate seats in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, all states won by Trump two years ago, and retaking many counties that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but flipped to Trump in 2016. Democrats won at least seven governorships — including defeating Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Kris Kobach in Kansas (Kansas!) — and significantly narrowed the Republican edge in control of state legislatures. These latter victories will be important when states redraw congressional and legislative district lines after the 2020 census. 

Democrats were successful because their candidates focused on issues important to voters: Healthcare, education, infrastructure, and the like. The 2018 elections will be viewed as marking the historic triumph of Obamacare. Voters in red states as well as blue states demonstrated that Obamacare now defines the minimum in government guaranteed health coverage. More than 300,000 low-income Americans likely will gain health insurance because voters in the very red states of Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah voted to expand Medicaid. One might question the political savvy of these voters since they voted for expansion while electing Republicans, rewarding politicians who previously refused to accept Obamacare’s offer of subsidies for Medicaid expansion. But, all in all, healthcare is a winning Democratic issue.

The new Democratic House majority will no doubt pass legislation to protect health insurance, subsidize prescription drug coverage, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, and more. All these measures likely will not go far in the Republican-controlled Senate — and even if they did, the president might veto them — but passing such legislation will lay down important markers for the 2020 presidential election and also negate Republican charges that Democrats are only interested in vengeful investigations of the president.

President Trump wasted no time in firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Democrats can walk and chew gum at the same time, so they will hold the administration accountable while doing the people’s business. Trump, of course, in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s election, proved why congressional oversight is so critical. The president’s first order of business was to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The former Alabama senator is a reprehensible racist and xenophobe, but he did the right thing in recusing himself from control of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. For acting attorney general, Trump ignored the logical candidate — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, an apolitical career official — to choose a political hack, Matthew Whitaker, a Trumpian true believer whose hard right politics please Trump and who believes Trump should limit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Democrats need to probe Trump’s firing of Sessions, insist that Whitaker recuse himself from control of Mueller’s investigation, and pass legislation protecting the special counsel. Even if the Senate went along — which is doubtful — Trump would veto such legislation. But, again, markers must be laid. Then, Democrats can begin the process of investigating the swamp Trump oversees — his administration is among the most corrupt in American history — and subpoena his tax returns. Trump, in his Wednesday news conference, showed he relishes a fight. Democrats in the House “can play that game,” the president said, “but we can play it better. Because we have a thing called the United States Senate,” which Trump threatened to use to investigate House Democrats (how that could be done, our constitutionally ignorant president failed to indicate). 

President George W. Bush with advisor Karl Rove.

Trump exhibited his usual braggadocio with spurts of anger. But, he is in trouble, and he probably knows it. He faces a deluge of congressional investigations that threaten to dominate the second half of his term. He should listen to the recommendation of Karl Rove, a former top advisor to President George W. Bush. “One of the things the White House needs to understand is that we doubled the size of the general counsel’s office and that wasn’t big enough,” Rove said, referring to the Democratic sweep in the 2006 midterm elections. “We found out pretty quick that we didn’t have enough lawyers.”

In his news conference Wednesday, Trump tried to act emboldened by the election results, touting Senate victories. But, he should be apprehensive. And, he should hire more lawyers — if he can find some who will work for him.

Posted November 9, 2018

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