House Democrats have reintroduced a broad legislative package meant to protect against the type of presidential abuse of power Donald Trump committed throughout his time in the White House. The adoption of this package could become a critical case to test how far Republicans have deviated from democratic norms as they continue to defer to Trump and his authoritarian political style.
On Tuesday, Democrats unveiled the Protecting Our Democracy Act, a set of bills that calls for a laudable set of new constraints on presidential power. Much of it centers on putting in place safeguards against shattering standards and blank corruption that we’ve seen under Trump, like prohibiting presidents from firing inspectors general without just cause. But in the end, the purpose of the reform package is not to reflect on the past, but to prevent it from repeating itself.
The package includes a wide range of reforms, which, according to the New York Times, include:
- Reinforcement of the prohibition imposed by the Constitution on presidents from receiving “emoluments” (payments) from foreigners
- Make it more difficult for the president to use pardons in contexts similar to corruption
- Make spending more difficult or secretly freeze funds unlike congressional appropriations
- Expedited prosecution of congressional subpoenas
- Ban on foreign aid for elections
- Restrict temporary presidential appointments, which can bypass Senate confirmation
- Prevent expiration of statute of limitations while presidents are in office
- Strengthening protections for whistleblowers
The reforms aim to tackle many of Trump’s most egregious abuses of power and to echo post-Watergate reforms. After the scandal-fueled resignation of President Richard Nixon, Congress passed sweeping reforms designed to restore confidence in the political system, and it passed policies ranging from limiting government oversight powers to overhauling the rules. from campaign finance to ethics reform. Bills under the Protection of Our Democracy Act could play similar roles.
Importantly, GOP lawmakers have already backed some of the policies of the Protect Our Democracy Act.
As with any major legislation today, Democrats will face the fundamental challenge of developing a filibuster-proof majority to get them through the Senate, which means winning the support of at least 10 Republicans. With most laws this can be a lost cause, but there is at least some reason to be very, very cautious optimistic.
These bills are part of a single package, but they can be broken down and tied to other laws, and most importantly, GOP lawmakers have already supported some of the policies of the Protecting Our Democracy Act. For example, Republicans backed legislation that would limit a president’s ability to harness additional powers by declaring a national emergency, as well as bills calling for more transparency in White House contact logs.
The historic expansion of executive power over time is a bipartisan phenomenon, and theoretically, efforts to curb this trend should have some bipartisan appeal. Consider that, according to the Times, the Biden administration is already pushing back some of the new proposals, including disclosure requirements for communications about leniency recipients and the empowerment of lawmakers to sue the executive. The objections are a clear symbol that the beneficiaries here are not clearly tied to any party or ideology, but they reflect a broader commitment to restrain the power of the executive branch and strong democratic standards.
The Trump era has intensified and broadened Republicans’ efforts to undermine democracy by denying voters the right to vote and baselessly slandering the integrity of the electoral system. But the Law on the Protection of Our Democracy could be an opportunity for a closer pro-democracy reform that could theoretically be supported by lawmakers on both sides.
Realistically, Republicans are eager to deny Democrats any legislative victory. And if all of these bills are presented as an indictment against Trump, it could further dampen the possibility of GOP cooperation. Ultimately, if the GOP avoids these bills altogether, it will provide further evidence that the Republican Party has lost interest in even the democracy lens.