A Tale of Two Presidents

By this time eight years ago, both the House and the Senate had passed the $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This Friday marks the eighth anniversary of the day President Obama signed that piece of legislation. More than anything else, that marked the halt to this country’s trajectory of losing hundreds of thousands of jobs every month and careening towards another Great Depression.

I point to that because this weekend, Stephen Miller said, “We have a president who has done more in three weeks than most presidents have done in an entire administration.” It’s not clear what he was referring to. Unless he thinks that a travel ban that has been stayed by the courts and a botched special forces raid in Yemen count as accomplishments, one has to wonder what it is he thinks the current president has done.

Since I wrote yesterday about the limits that are impeding this administration, both Kevin Drum and Zachary Karabell have written similar assessments. Karabell was brutal.

There is a wide gap, a chasm even, between what the administration has said and what it has done. There have been 45 executive orders or presidential memoranda signed, which may seem like a lot but lags President Barack Obama’s pace. More crucially, with the notable exception of the travel ban, almost none of these orders have mandated much action or clear change of current regulations. So far, Trump has behaved exactly like he has throughout his previous career: He has generated intense attention and sold himself as a man of action while doing little other than promote an image of himself as someone who gets things done.

It is the illusion of a presidency, not the real thing.

There are those who would argue that a comparison to President Obama’s record isn’t fair because he had bigger majorities in Congress. While it’s true that the Democratic majority in the Senate in 2009 was bigger than the Republican majority now, at the time the stimulus bill passed, Democrats did not have a 60 vote majority to overcome a Republican filibuster of the bill. Arlen Spector had not yet switched parties and Al Franken was still caught up in a recount. So passage of the stimulus bill required getting at least 2 Republicans votes. That meant negotiating not only with moderate Democrats who were worried about the price tag, but with moderate Republicans as well. In the end, three of them voted for the bill (Specter, Collins and Snowe).

By way of contrast, Trump and the Republican majority in Congress haven’t passed anything of substance. One of the biggest reasons why is that they haven’t demonstrated any interest in working with Democrats. Most of their energy has been spent on corralling their own troops to get an Obamacare repeal passed via reconciliation as a way to bypass the need for negotiation and compromise. So far they can’t even pull that off.

This is instructive not only as a way to demonstrate the incompetence we’re seeing from the Republican administration and Congress. It is important for liberals to remember that what the Democrats did in passing the Recovery Act is the way that our government was designed to work. It’s been so long since that happened that some of us might have forgotten.

That is not a pitch for Democrats to work with this administration. At this point, the only things they are talking about doing are anathema to liberals and the initiative for compromise starts with those who have the power. My point is to remind us all that Republican obstruction and extremism have broken the functioning of our government. Hopefully there will be a time in our future when we can repair that breach.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.