It’s hard not to get discouraged. Our government is so broken and the left is so behind the eight ball that it seems like any progress at all is permanently out of reach. Even the rare glimmer of hope mainly serves to reinforce this sense of powerlessness.
For example, Congress came together last year to use the War Powers Act for the first time since it was enacted in 1973. The goal was to prevent the president from continuing to support Saudi Arabia in the civil war in Yemen. While the resolution passed with bipartisan support, Trump simply vetoed the bill.
This week, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia will bring a privileged resolution to the floor of the Senate. The goal is “to limit President Donald Trump’s authority to launch military operations against Iran” by requiring the president to cease “all hostilities targeting Iran within 30 days unless explicitly approved by Congress.” The resolution appears to have the support of all 47 members of the Democratic caucus plus Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Todd Young of Indiana, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jerry Moran of Kansas. That’s more than enough to pass the resolution but far short of the two-thirds majority needed to override Trump’s inevitable veto.
It’s a rare example of congressional Republicans dealing Trump a defeat, as well as a rare instance of Congress trying to exert its powers against the Executive Branch. But it’s not going to have any legal effect.
That doesn’t mean the effort is pointless, of course, but it’s hard to find it as a source of hope.
It’s not surprising that good legislation doesn’t become law in the Trump administration, but not much would be different with a Democratic president. If a bill could actually overcome a Republican filibuster, it would probably not be all that worthwhile. If the bill somehow circumvented the filibuster and it was in any way transformative, it’s likely that the conservative courts would rule it unconstitutional. This problem is so obvious that progressives are already demanding that the next Democratic president increase the size of the Supreme Court and demand that the Senate do away with the legislative filibuster. If either of those things are not done, then there’s little chance that a President Sanders or a President Klobuchar or any Democratic president will be able to fulfill a single major campaign promise.
But it’s hard to see the Democratic Party as unified enough to accomplish this. At least initially, there will be no majority in the Senate for gutting the filibuster, and everyone remembers how badly FDR was hurt when he tried to stack the court. Maybe if the congressional Democrats see enough of their work product help up and stymied, they will come around. But, by that time, the critical first year of a new president’s term will have passed and everyone will be worried about the midterms.
And, note that I am here assuming that the Democrats will win the presidency in 2020 and take full control of Congress. If they don’t accomplish both of those things, then no legislative progress is even conceivable at all.
There’s really nothing to do but keep fighting, but it’s sometimes hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel.