Editorial March 31, 2017

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

If you were wondering what Trump advisor Steve Bannon meant in his comments last month to the CPAC gathering about ‘dissembling’ the Administrative State you can see what he meant in a couple of resolutions considered this week, others passed since January, and almost all of Trump’s Executive Orders.

The Administrative State is a term originating in 1948 by a writer Dwight Waldo as the title of his book. The term actually represents the concept of public administration by which many unelected public servants can be considered to be public administrators as Waldo saw it. To really get the concept you must consider the idea of separating politics and administration. In an ideal world the administrative state is simply persons hired or appointed to a position within an agency based on their expertise in the areas the agency represents. From there they facilitate the agencies written mission. In the real world those elected officials in Congress and the presidency believe that those decisions are not well thought out, have some political basis and maybe even represent the Executive Branch overreaching and a threat to the constitutional powers granted to Congress. That is what we hear the most from this Congress, Trump and Trump his advisors.

The strength in the Administrative State is that it is supposed to leave decisions on the interpretation and administration of public law, particularly those laws that establish the responsibilities of each of the government agencies, up to those within each agency who make rules to implement the agency’s mission based on their expertise.

The Republican Congress easily gets riled with rules and regulations produced by the administrative state because they hear from interest groups that the rules and regulations are burdensome and are restricting growth, costing money, and stymies job creation. That is the political side of the argument.

Somewhere along the line the ideas of protecting the environment, providing safety on the job, protecting on-line privacy, and deciding if a mental disability should prohibit gun ownership were good ideas. In a sense those rulings and regulations were part of making this ‘a more perfect union’; tweaking the agency’s mission to further carry out that mission.

Why Trump and Congress are wrong about rolling back rules is because they are removing provisions that are reasonable in the context of what an agency’s mission is and most certainly have several ways to protest any given rule. They instead have replaced those rules with politics.

One excellent example is Trumps Executive Order calling for a reevaluation of a provision in the 1972 Clean Water Act regarding the definition of ‘waters of the US’.

The definition of waters of the US has been clearly defined to mean navigable waters but EPA is allowed to also regulate waters that cause pollution or other environmental problems downstream. That opens the door to the EPA regulating waters of the US that are not navigable but connected to navigable waters.

The EPA’s responsibilities were put in place by Congress and the White House as a law of the land when the Clean Water Act was made passed in 1972. How soon we forget that the legislation came from a truly national grass roots movement after rivers caught on fire and people became ill or died from the results of dangerous commercial discharges in their waterways and land. There were no rules governing what companies could discharge into rivers, including those rivers used by municipalities for drinking water.

Right now the contested 2015 rule is not in effect since the 6th US Court of Appeals put a nationwide halt on it.

Trump went ahead and signed the Executive Order and that is where the politics replace the agency expertise, his comments are inaccurate, a luxury politicians can get away with but Federal agency regulators cannot. Trump is responding to complaints from farmers, property developers, fertilizer and pesticide makers, oil and gas producers and others all of whom stand to profit financially if the rule is not enforced. All parties have been given the opportunity to opine to the EPA, and several lawsuits have been filed making claims that, if Trump’s comments are any example are largely unproven nonsense. Trump: “The EPA’s regulators were putting people out of jobs by the hundreds of thousands” an apparent alternative fact since no such evidence has been established. “Navigable waters can mean nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land or anyplace else that they decide. Right? It was a massive power grab.”

While Congress should concern itself with the Executive Branch making decisions that Congress should be making the waters of the US matter is not one of them. Rather Congress and the White House through this and other dissembling of the Administrative State is, indeed, a power grab.

Hamilton on Congress

How to Handle the Russia Mess

By Lee H. Hamilton

Hamilton

Hamilton

The recent announcement by FBI Director James Comey that his agency is investigating links between members of President Trump’s campaign and Russia has upended Washington. Yet there needs to be an even stronger and broader investigation to get to the bottom of what happened.

There are really two questions at hand. The first involves Russian meddling in our election and their attempts to manipulate the outcome. They clearly have the ability to affect the public debate and public perceptions – and maybe hack the election itself. And it’s not just us: they appear bent on meddling in elections in other Western democracies as well.

This is serious stuff. The Russians are trying to manipulate the very foundation of representative government: free elections and the integrity of our institutions. They want to weaken our system. It’s crucial to understand exactly what they’re up to, the capabilities they possess, and how effective they’ve been. There’s a lot we need to understand before we move on to how best to respond as a nation to this Russian effort to subvert American democracy.

The second investigation is looking into the activities of the Trump election team, and whether anyone involved in some way colluded or worked with the Russians to affect the outcome of the 2016 election. The FBI has confirmed a list of Trump campaign officials who had contact with the Russians, but what’s been revealed so far is a lot of smoke and not much fire – at least, not yet.

The FBI investigation will move the ball forward on both fronts. White House denials and the reluctance of Republicans in the majority on Capitol Hill to dig deeply into the election of a president of their own party has bogged the public investigations down.

Yet the truth is, we’ve been attacked by the Russians and we’re not investigating it adequately – which is why the FBI’s investigations are necessary, but not enough.

The FBI’s principal charge is criminal law; what we need is much broader. However thorough and robust the criminal investigation mounted by the agency turns out to be, by its nature it will be unable to give the nation the open and bipartisan inquiry on a broad range of issues – not just criminal, but also civil, political, and diplomatic – that we need in order to move forward.

Getting at the facts ought not to be a political exercise, but resolving what to do about them surely will be. What the Russians did was an attack on the heart of our system; if we are to rebuild and sustain public faith in our democracy’s integrity, we need an investigation conducted in the light of day, by people who seek the truth and have standing and legitimacy on both sides of the political aisle.

In theory, Congress could do this, either with a select committee or through its standing committees. But there are several problems with this. The first is that it would be a part-time effort, with members facing conflicting demands on their already pressured time; it would be impossible for them to give it their full attention. Moreover, the institution is already bogged down by so much partisanship that it’s hard to imagine an investigation achieving the legitimacy it needs. Finally, a number of members have already made up their minds: they tell us there’s nothing to investigate. They’re wrong.

Clearly, our politics stand in the way of an immediate, thorough and open investigation on a critically important question. So I’d suggest that what we need is a fully staffed, well-resourced commission that can look into all aspects of the Russians’ involvement in our election.

What members of the Trump campaign did or did not do with the Russians should certainly be part of it, but the paramount focus should be to lay out the full extent of Russian involvement in our electoral system and how to prevent it from happening again. It’s critical to the success of our representative democracy that we understand what happened. A highly visible inquiry by a credible, independent commission would give us the best opportunity to move forward.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


Foriegn Affairs

More Troops for Mosul

“U.S. defense officials tell Fox two companies from the 82nd Airborne Division based at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina — some 200 troops in all — will be departing soon for the ISIS fight in Mosul. This comes days after the USS George HW Bush entered the Persian Gulf to begin airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. More signs the Pentagon is also ramping up operations against terrorist groups around the world — with increasing focus on the African continent.” FOX

Russia: Why Libya?

“The head of Libya’s United Nations-backed government, Fayez al-Sarraj, undertook an official visit to Moscow to meet with top Russian diplomats and officials March 2-3. Russia has been stepping up efforts in Libya, which seems baffling outside the wide regional context. There is a popular opinion that Russian foreign policy, including planning in the Middle East, may sometimes be tactically impeccable but lacks strategic thinking.” al Monitor

US Expansion in the Middle East

“The United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen this month than during all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line positions and has been accused of killing civilians in airstrikes. In Iraq, American troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17.” “American officials describe a shift in military decision-making that began under President Barack Obama.” NY Times


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