In case you missed it newly minted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently attended a town hall hosted by MSNBC’s Joy Reid and slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for essentially abdicating his constitutional duty as a congressional leader.
Speaker Pelosi told Joy Reid;“What Mitch McConnell is doing, and I say this as respectfully as possible, is we are not needed. Congress might as well stay home. All we need is one person to show up–Donald Trump, and that’s not what our founders had in mind. The President can sign or not but he[McConnell] should never say I’m not even going to put it on the President’s desk….don’t say Congress is irrelevant.”
Speaker Pelosi’s remarks come against a backdrop of the partial government shutdown (aka #TrumpShutdown) over funding for the border wall. Immediately after being sworn into the 116th Congress, House Democrats passed bills aimed at reopening the government. The bills require a vote in the Senate before they head to the white house for the President’s signature. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to table the bills in the Senate arguing that because Trump would never sign them into law, there was no need for him to table them–a waste of time. This has sparked a constitutional debate as to what the role of congress, and specifically Mitch McConnell’s is vis-a-vis the President.
Speaker Pelosi’s argument which is the long-held view among many constitutional scholars is that because Congress is one of the three co-equal branches of government (alongside the Judiciary and the Executive), the President should not dictate the affairs of Congress. In other words, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should not refuse to table a bill to reopen the government(or any bill for that matter) simply because he thinks or knows that the President would not sign it. When the House passes a bill, his job is to table it in the Senate for a vote and if it passes, let the President do whatever he wants with it(sign it or not). As Speaker Pelosi correctly argues, this is how the founding fathers intended for Congress to operate—an independent, co-equal branch of government.
The argument Speaker Pelosi is making doesn’t get the mainstream media attention it deserves but touches on a very important constitutional topic. For the last two years with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former House Speaker Paul Ryan, we have arguably witnessed the most egregious constitutional aberration in terms of what the proper role of Congress is vis-a-vis the President. This idea that a Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker are just subservient surrogates of the President as we have witnessed from Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan for the last two years is as un-American as it gets. The U.S. founding fathers never meant for Congress to be subservient to the President.
You don’t have to take Speaker Pelosi’s word for it. A venerable journalist with the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin wrote a forceful opinion piece about the same subject and later expounded on it on MSNBC’s AM Joy Show.
Bottom line one only hopes that Speaker Pelosi, congressional Democrats and indeed the mainstream media (kudos to WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin), will continue hammering away at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for the constitutional aberration he and former House Speaker Paul Ryan have perpetrated for the last two years. The message to Sen McConnell should be very clear:”If you don’t have a clear grasp of your constitutional duties as a congressional leader, you should step down.” Simply put, Speaker Pelosi must keep calling out Sen McConnell’s constitutional aberration and continue giving him free constitutional tutorials until he gets it.
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