Nothing says defending institutional norms better than, er … a caucus in the House of Representatives gaming out the arrests of executive-branch officials. What? According to frosh Squad member Rep. Rashida Tlaib in a Detroit town hall meeting this week, that’s the topic du jour in House Democrat caucus meetings. What do you do when your contempt motions don’t have any impact any more?
During a town hall meeting with constituents in Michigan this week, Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib agreed that U.S. Marshals should “hunt down” White House officials and remove them from office if they “refuse to leave power.” This includes President Trump.
The idea was suggested by a man questioning Tlaib, who nodded in agreement, and then admitted Democrats on Capitol Hill have been having a discussion about who can arrest administration officials and where they could be held.
“This is the last caucus conversation we’ve had. Did you know this is really unprecedented? This is the worst time we’ve ever had a situation like this. They’re trying to figure out, no joke, is it the DC police that goes and gets them?” Tlaib said. “Where do we hold them? Like, I’m not in those kinds of conversations but I’m asking, what happens?”
“I’m telling you, they’re trying to be like, ‘Well where are we going put them? Where are we going to hold…'” she continued, suggesting they can be held in Detroit. “What happens when they don’t comply? The fact of the matter is we held Barr and Secretary Ross from Commerce, the Secretary of Commerce, in contempt. Well, what happens if they continue to not comply?”
Oh, I don’t know … maybe we can ask Barack Obama’s wingman Eric Holder. This isn’t really uncharted territory, after all; the House passed a contempt citation against the former Attorney General for refusing to comply with subpoenas relating to Operation Fast and Furious. That was an ATF/Department of Justice scandal in which hundreds people actually were killed, including two Border Patrol agents, with weapons trafficked by the ATF across the border into Mexico. Holder’s response was to stonewall and claim executive privilege, and then shrug off the contempt citation after it was passed by the full House. Sound familiar yet?
No? How about Obama’s DoJ — run by Holder, of course — deciding not to prosecute the contempt charge? Not even after Juan “El Chapo” Guzman was found with a .50-caliber Fast & Furious weapon. Not even after a federal judged quashed the executive-privilege claim, for that matter. Will House Democrats finally send out the DC police to pick up Holder? Don’t bet on it.
If House Democrats find themselves frustrated at the impotence of contempt resolutions, they have only themselves to blame for not demanding that the Obama administration take Holder’s contempt more seriously. But it goes beyond that too. Back when the House and Senate were more functional, Congress had a lot more leverage over the executive branch by dint of the budget process. If officials didn’t cooperate or got found in contempt, Congress could simply withhold funding for the department until they complied. Thanks to the budget brinksmanship that has been the norm for well over a decade, Congress has fallen into the habit of passing budgets in omnibus motions that no longer allow for that kind of targeted pressure.
Instead, all they can do is fantasize about ordering police forces to round up their opponents when they refuse to submit to their poisonously partisan whims. For a caucus supposedly trying to prevent the US from becoming “a banana republic,” they certainly seem comfortable with those precise tactics — if Tlaib is telling the truth to her constituents in this meeting, anyway.
Addendum: The town hall meeting took place on Tuesday, and it appears that no news outlet reported Tlaib’s comments until yesterday.