Rebuilding our democracy after Donald Trump | Guest Viewpoint

US Rep. Derek Kilmer
Posted 1/13/21

Editor’s note: This guest opinion was written Jan. 8, before Congress took action on impeaching the president a second time.

Last week, we saw an assault on our democracy. The mob that …

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Rebuilding our democracy after Donald Trump | Guest Viewpoint

Posted

Editor’s note: This guest opinion was written Jan. 8, before Congress took action on impeaching the president a second time.

Last week, we saw an assault on our democracy. The mob that stormed the United States Capitol at the incitement of President Donald Trump was not simply seeking to damage a building — it was seeing to upend our very republic. This is another sad chapter in the legacy of Donald Trump.  

Americans are right to ask — what now?

First and foremost, I believe that President Trump is manifestly unfit for office. That’s why I believe that if the Vice President and cabinet fail to uphold their constitutional obligation under the 25th amendment, Congress should be prepared to proceed with impeachment as a matter of national security. 

Obviously, and importantly, we will have a new president sworn-in on Jan. 20 regardless. I think it is important to remember that on the dark day of Trump’s failed insurrection, perhaps the most vital takeaway was that our democracy endured. Congress did its job and certified the votes of the electors. It was an important reminder that, in our system of government, mobs don’t get to choose our president. Failed candidates don’t get to choose our president. The American voters get to choose.  

But it is not enough to simply change the occupant of the White House. The reality is that bold action must be taken to prevent the awful abuses of power that we saw from Donald Trump and those who work for him over the past four years. 

This has been done before — for example, after Watergate, Congress recognized the need for bold systemic reforms to refresh America’s democracy and prevent the types of abuse that our nation had witnessed. Sadly, we are at such a moment again.

With that in mind, I’m pushing to see that Congress pass reforms to prevent these abuses from happening ever again. To me, putting in place new reforms to restore accountability, ensure transparency, and root out corruption in future White House occupants (regardless of party) is a no-brainer. That’s why I’m a sponsor of the Protecting Our Democracy Act. 

Among other things, this bill will:

Prevent the abuse of presidential pardons;

Suspend the statute of limitations on federal crimes committed by a president or vice president to make clear that no one is above the law;

Bar federal officials from profiting off of their service;

Establish tools to enforce Congressional subpoenas and ensure federal officials remain accountable to the elected representatives sent to D.C. by the American people;

Reassert Congress’ power of the purse by limiting the ability for the president to unilaterally substitute their own funding decisions for those of the Congress;

Limit Presidential declarations of emergencies to ensure that they cannot unilaterally or unjustly set aside many of the legal limits of their authority;

Prevent political interference in the work of the Justice Department;

Protect the independence of inspectors general and require documentation of cause before an IG may be removed;

Protect whistleblowers to ensure federal employees can lawfully disclose abuses of power;

Strengthen the Hatch Act, the law limiting certain political activities of federal employees, to provide stronger enforcement and penalties for violations; and

Take steps to prevent foreign interference in American elections. 

Additionally, Congress should pass H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a sweeping package of democracy reform bills that includes substantial ethics reform for the president, vice president, and federal officers and employees. This legislatives package includes measure requiring the president and vice president to adhere to the same ethical standards as the millions of government employees who work for the federal government; requiring the president, vice president, and candidates for those offices to disclose their tax returns; and require the president and vice president to divest financial interests that pose a conflict of interest. Unfortunately, the Republican-led Senate stopped this bill from becoming law after it passed the House in 2019. But it has already been re-introduced, and I will push to see it become law under President Biden. 

Over the past four years, I have persistently opposed attempts to undermine our values and our Constitution. These last four years have been the ultimate stress test.  

Indeed, the need for some of these changes may not have been foreseen prior to this presidency. Who would have imagined such blatant abuse of pardon power, an attempt to get a foreign power to dig up dirt on a political opponent, the consistent efforts to use his office to enrich his own companies, a political convention on the White House lawn, and persistent retaliation against whistleblowers and IGs? 

But we can’t unsee the abuses of these last four years. We cannot pretend they didn’t happen, even when Donald Trump departs the White House. And, simply put, America can’t let such abuse happen again. Congress should enact real change, right now, to create a new standard of leadership and integrity. 

It’s said that, at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was asked what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: “A republic, if you can keep it.”  

In the days ahead it is up to us — all of us — to ensure that we turn the page on the abuses of this administration ... and keep our republic for the American people.

(Representative Derek Kilmer, D-WA, represents Washington’s 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.)

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