by Diana DeGette
Don’t hold me to it, but there’s a good chance that June in Washington, DC won’t be the wild roller-coaster ride that May was.
It’s no exaggeration to say that nearly every day last month brought stunning news that raised concerns about the state of our democracy, starting at the top. There was one shocking revelation after another involving Russian officials, President Donald J. Trump’s actions, the firing of FBI director James Comey, alleged conversations between Comey and President Trump, and other matters.
But as of this writing in late May, things have started to settle down — in part thanks to the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the FBI’s Russia investigation, which I had called for in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein earlier in the month while at home in Colorado.
I was especially pleased that Rosenstein tapped former FBI Director Robert Mueller, whom I know to be a man of integrity, professionalism and absolute dedication to justice.
Given the complexities of the situation and what is sure to be a thorough investigation under Mueller’s leadership, we can expect that it will be a long time before his work produces conclusions that can be shared with the public.
So maybe now we can get dispense with dramatic distractions for a while and get back to what Congress should do: pass legislation that improves life for Americans and helps make our country more secure.
If the President keeps to the promises he made in January, this would include major tax reform and an initiative to fix America’s crumbling infrastructure. But his one-page tax plan outline from late April hasn’t yet been translated to legislation, and an infrastructure bill is evidently even further down the road, since there’s been no sign of one yet.
Meantime, the House Republican leadership has forged ahead on its unilateral effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, jamming through a TrumpCare bill without waiting for an assessment of its costs and effects from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The CBO reported in the last week of May that if this bill becomes law, it will ration care and put insurance companies back in charge. Twenty-three million people will lose their coverage within 10 years while the cost for millions others will go up — including those covered through employer plans. The onus is now on the Senate to prevent this damage.
We also should be deep into the process of preparing a budget for Fiscal Year 2018, which starts on October 1. President Trump’s budget blueprint in March, which slashed spending for important domestic and foreign policy priorities in favor of dramatically boosting the military budget, was greeted as a non-starter by congressional Republicans and Democrats alike.
The appropriations process only begins in earnest when the President presents an actual, detailed budget request to Congress, which he finally did on May 23. If enacted, this heartless and short-sighted budget proposal would cripple important domestic and international programs to create needless tax breaks for the wealthy. Republicans and Democrats alike spoke up immediately to protest it.
The delays, chaos and dysfunction that have characterized the Trump administration to date have not only affected the work of Congress. They have also undermined Americans’ confidence about where we’re headed as a country and how it affects our standing in the world.
With respect to the matters involving Russia and President Trump’s campaign and administration, the coming weeks and months will likely bring more revealing investigative reporting, along with rampant rumors, misdirection and misinformation. A truly independent, impartial Special Counsel will follow the cold, hard facts wherever they lead. And the Justice Department can determine whether there has been a violation of federal law in a way that no other approach to these issues can.
But that doesn’t rule out taking other paths to get at the truth. I have long supported the formation of an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, including any possible collusion with the Trump campaign, and to ensure that such interference never happens again.
I first called for that commission in December when the intelligence community made clear that Russia had meddled in the election. That’s why I support, H.R. 356, the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which would establish such a commission. This bill has been ignored by the House Republican leadership, along with other substantive legislation intended to hold the President accountable.
An independent commission would involve experts from outside the government, who would not only seek out the facts, but also suggest solutions. The 9/11 Commission was one such effort, and its recommendations led to changes that helped make the United States safer.
Diana DeGette represents Colorado’s First District to the U.S. Congress. She serves as Chief Deputy Whip and is a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.