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What Democrats should do — and stop doing — to win the White House

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For Democrats to win the 2020 Electoral College vote they will need to capture a few 2016 Donald Trump voters and some of those who voted for neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton. As a voter in the latter category, I have three bits of advice for Democrats: Find a nominee who does not embrace the Green New Deal with free everything, drop impeachment and, between now and then, demand that your representatives in Congress exercise their constitutional authority to legislate.

No doubt, the far-left agenda of many of the Democratic candidates for president appeals to the base, but to most of the voters the Democrats need to capture it is absurd. Reasonable people know there is no such thing as a free lunch, yet some candidates are proposing free breakfast and free dinner as well. Corporations may not be people, but they employ people, produce products and services people want and need, and, if all goes well, pay dividends to their shareholders. Reducing carbon emissions is important, but it is hard to take the Green New Dealers seriously when they oppose nuclear power — by far the most promising near-term solution.

Democrats need to come up with a realistic agenda that promotes both individual liberty and the common good. Enough with the pie-in-the-sky ambitions, the endless investigations and the hate-filled demonizations.  

Because impeachment is a political process, it is silly to ask whether President Trump has committed any impeachable offenses. He has if Congress says he has. But even if the House impeaches, there is no chance the Senate will convict. Impeachment proceedings would consume Congress and amount to little more than a Democratic tantrum.   

The drive for impeachment started the day Trump was elected. Many Democrats simply could not abide the reality of his victory. Over the intervening two years, so-called “Trump derangement syndrome” has only grown more widespread. Democrats in Congress seem unable to focus on anything but the president. Meanwhile, there are things Congress could be doing to counter not Trump’s embarrassing persona but his irrational policies.

Impeachment proceedings, along with the many investigations begun by House Democrats (House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) now intends to investigate the Mueller investigation), are a debilitating distraction from actually doing something to check the president.

In that regard, Democrats in Congress should work with Republicans to assert the constitutional powers they possess. Article I, Section 1, provides that “all legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” Among those powers granted in Section 8, Clause 1 is the “power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises,” and in Clause 3 “to regulate commerce with foreign nations.”  

President Trump seems to believe he has been granted these powers and that tariffs — “duties” in the language of the Constitution — are the answer to every international challenge. His latest idea is to levy up to a 25 percent tariff on all goods imported from Mexico unless the Mexican government takes unspecified measures to restrict migration from Central America.  

Trump claims authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). But according to the Congressional Research Service, IEEPA never has been relied upon to justify the imposition of tariffs on a particular country. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has objected that Trump’s proposed action is unauthorized. The way it usually goes, there will be a challenge in court and a couple of years later the president could be chastised — after the economic damage is done. That’s what happened after President Truman seized the nation’s steel mills in violation of his constitutional authority.  

But Congress could take immediate action without relying on the courts. Grassley, along with Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), have called for legislation to constrain the president. Assuming the Democrats in the House and Senate all agree, three Republicans in the Senate is all it would take for Congress to pass an amendment to IEEPA making clear that the president does not have the authority he claims. And then Congress, once having surmounted the partisan divide, could take legislative action to restrict other usurpations of legislative power in which Trump and his predecessors have engaged for decades.

In other words, Democrats could stop complaining about an out-of-control president and join with Republicans to actually confine Trump to his constitutional role. If they do that, and if they nominate a reasonable candidate for president, he or she just might get my vote.

James L. Huffman is a professor of law and the former dean of Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore. He was the Republican nominee in the 2010 U.S. Senate election in Oregon. Follow him on Twitter @JamesHu41086899.

Tags 2020 Democratic candidates Chuck Grassley Donald Trump Green New Deal Impeachment Jerrold Nadler Mueller investigation partisan politics

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