A reporter asked President Donald Trump on Wednesday in the Rose Garden: “Mr. President, do you view Congress as a co-equal branch of government?”
The president had just finished explaining that despite Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s earlier claim of a “cover-up,” he had cooperated fully with every House and Senate investigation into so-called “Russian collusion,” and with the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who confirmed there was none.
Yet Pelosi and the House Democrats are demanding more. Frustrated by Mueller’s conclusion, they want to stitch little pieces of the Mueller report together, selectively, to make a case that Trump obstructed justice. Further, they want to use — or abuse — the subpoena powers of Congress to investigate everything about the president, and everyone close to him: his private bank accounts, his counsel, his family. They threaten contempt charges against anyone who refuses.
These are not legitimate oversight functions of the legislative branch.
What Nancy Pelosi and the reporter mean when they refer to Congress as “a co-equal branch of government” is that they want Congress to be the supreme branch. Pelosi has said as much explicitly: she enjoys reminding the president and the public that “the legislative branch is Article I: the first branch of government” — forgetting, of course, that she barely controls one half of the legislature.
In pressing for congressional subpoenas of the president, Pelosi purports to be defending the Constitution. But neither she nor the media defended Congress when President Barack Obama violated its constitutional authority — re-writing laws; declaring the Senate in recess when it was not; and committing to treaties that were never ratified. In fact, Pelosi continues to defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, in which Obama usurped Congress.
Yes, Congress is first among the branches of government. In Federalist No. 51, James Madison wrote: “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” But he also noted the importance of constitutional checks on the power of the legislative branch, warning of “dangerous encroachments” if the legislature were allowed to exert unlimited power. He also suggested that the “weakness of the executive may require … that it should be fortified.”
It is also worth noting that Pelosi’s argument has a rather grim history. The doctrine of parliamentary supremacy is what enabled apartheid South Africa, for one, to impose brutal racial segregation on the people of that country, overriding and reshaping the judiciary to bend to the whims of the (white) majority party. In our own country, the attempt by the British Parliament to expand its authority in the colonies helped provoke the American Revolution.
Somewhat more recently, Congress overstepped the bounds of its authority during the McCarthy era, which went far beyond a legitimate inquiry into communist influence, and is recorded in history as a campaign of political persecution.
Democrats are repeating that history — abusing subpoena powers to harass witnesses and political opponents; issuing contempt citations that have no basis in law; and obsessing over the nefarious influence of Russians in our government.
To quote Karl Marx himself: history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” The best that could be said of Joe McCarthy, and the House Un-American Affairs Committee, is that they actually found some communists.
Pelosi’s cannot find any Russians, nor any crime for Trump to cover up. She is reduced to suggesting that he should be removed under the 25th Amendment. She sounds increasingly like she’s had a bit too much of the 21st.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.