Capitol building
Credit: Daniel Huizinga/Flickr

It’s understandable that most of the focus on the November elections has swirled around their potential impact on President Trump and the historic investigations surrounding him. Just a few days ago Republican leadership floated an overwhelming list of potential Democratic investigations into the president in an effort to rally their donors and voters. Republicans should be terrified. Trump blots out the sun, politically speaking, and the multiple overlapping scandals dogging his administration are unprecedented in American history.

But it’s crucial that the policy consequences of the November elections not be eclipsed by the planetary scale of Trump’s malfeasance, both from investigatory and legislative angles.

First, the passing of John McCain means that if Republicans hold the House and Senate, the repeal of most of the Affordable Care Act is almost guaranteed:

Senate Republicans say they would like Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) to appoint a successor to late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who, unlike McCain, would support GOP legislation to repeal ObamaCare.

GOP lawmakers say they won’t have time to hold another vote to repeal the law in 2018 but vow to try again next year if they manage to keep their Senate and House majorities.

A decent political party would honor McCain’s legacy by respecting his wishes. Then again, a decent political party wouldn’t be trying to take access to affordable health insurance away from millions just to give the wealthy another round of tax cuts.

Moreover, if Republicans hold both chambers of Congress in November they will be emboldened in the notion that there are no serious political consequences to serving the interests of white nationalism, plutocracy, and the fossil fuel industry. Restrictions on the rights of women and minorities will increase, the world’s climate crisis will deepen significantly, and the transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the ultra-wealthy will continue apace.

If Democrats win the House, most observers reasonably expect only gridlock and conflict with the Senate and the White House—and even if the Senate turns blue, it won’t do so with large enough margins to overcome filibusters much less a presidential veto. Democrats will be able to pass message bills—and they should as a matter of partisan politics—but few, if any, will actually become law.

But Greg Sargent also brings up the less noticed possibility of Democratic congressional probes not only into Trump conspiracy, corruption, and obstruction, but also overall Republican policy malfeasance—including and especially about the thousands of deaths in Puerto Rico caused by the willful neglect of the unified GOP government in the wake of Hurricane Maria:

A Democratic takeover of the House could have important consequences, not just because it would mean serious investigations of all the stuff we talk about constantly — Trump’s tax returns, self-dealing, emoluments clause violations, financial dealings with Russia, potential conspiracy to sabotage our election, etc., etc.

A Dem takeover could also matter because it would mean serious investigations of the Trump administration’s governing fiascoes…

The veiled Muslim ban, for instance, was rolled out in horribly slapdash fashion and moved forward despite two Department of Homeland Security studies undercutting its “national security” rationale. These things strongly suggested that the policy was rooted in a bad-faith desire to just get as close as possible to fulfilling Trump’s bigoted, off-the-cuff vow of an actual Muslim ban, with no serious regard for its actual consequences or implementation challenges once in office. We learned about that horrible process and the flimsiness of its rationale through leaks. What else don’t we know about the creation of this policy?

Sargent also mentions the careless, ham-fisted, and almost certainly corrupt approaches to family separation policy at the border and Affordable Care Act repeal in the same context. It’s not just that Republican policies are cruel and unpopular. The unprecedentedly insouciant, sudden, and clandestine way in which these policies were pursued is also a scandal that cannot bear scrutiny, and might even demonstrate illegal action if properly investigated.

What is certain is that the Trump Administration’s behavior has uncovered enormous flaws in the processes of American governance. The system has been held together by decades and even centuries-old traditions and laws. Some of them are clearly outdated and need updating. Others fall apart when politicians of enough bad faith choose to openly flout the unwritten norms that hold the creaky edifice together. If Democrats manage to retake both Congress and the presidency in 2020, applying structural fixes will need to be one of their top priorities. But in order to know exactly what needs fixing, it’s necessary to get a full accounting of what was broken.

Uncovering these matters—both of policy and procedure—depends on Democratic victories in November.

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David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.