Oversight Agenda to Protect Our Democracy

  • September 21, 2019

Congressional Oversight to Restore Our Democracy

The Constitution provides Congress the power to conduct oversight and investigations of the President’s execution of the law. That is because, in the words of the Supreme Court, the “power of inquiry – with process to enforce it – is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function.” To craft effective legislative solutions, Congress first must understand the problems that the American people face.

Today the American people face formidable threats to our constitutional democracy. At risk or, worse, in serious decline are the checks and balances on executive power, the fairness of our elections, the independence of our democratic institutions, and the government’s accountability for ensuring basic protections for the American people. And yet, our country’s political course can change for the better.

The next Congress will have an opportunity – and an obligation – to use its oversight and investigations power to protect our constitutional democracy. By exposing and understanding specific threats, Congress not only will deter further abuses, but also will pave the way for legislation that restores weakened norms, rebuilds damaged institutions, and revives the public’s confidence in our democracy. A blueprint for possible legislative solutions can be found here.

Protect Democracy proposes a package of congressional oversight and investigations to begin the work of understanding the nature and extent of the threats to our democracy. We urge Congress to undertake fourteen investigations in three categories: (i) abuse of presidential and executive powers, (ii) corruption and politicization of democratic institutions, and (iii) failures to protect the American people. While investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and President Trump’s finances and emoluments is equally important to our democracy, our package focuses on issues that may not have gotten as much attention. Each proposal contains a summary of the issue, the legal framework, and an investigation plan, including document requests and witness lists.

This is a package that both Republicans and Democrats in Congress can embrace. The proposed investigations do not fall along traditional partisan lines. With bipartisan support, Congress can quickly begin tackling these issues and building momentum toward needed renewal. Below is a summary of our proposed oversight and investigations:

I. Abuse of Presidential and Executive Powers

  • Abuse of Presidential War Powers – Examine the Trump Administration’s views on the scope of presidential war powers, how those views have been implemented, and how Congress can prevent unilateral war-making without Congressional authorization.
  • Abuse of the Presidential Pardon Power – Investigate President Trump’s possible abuses of the pardon power, particularly the use or promise to use the pardon power to place himself above the law or to violate the constitutional rights of others.
  • Abuse of the Security Clearance Process – Investigate President Trump’s abuses of the security clearance process by revoking or threatening to revoke the security clearances of government officials who have criticized the Administration.
  • Resistance to Court Orders – Investigate multiple high-profile instances where executive branch officials have effectively defied court orders by slow-walking compliance, creating administrative hurdles, or blaming others for noncompliance.

II. Corruption and Politicization of Independent Institutions

  • White House Interference with the Department of Justice – Investigate possible White House interference with law enforcement decisions to reward political allies and to punish opponents, and examine the Justice Department’s insulation from influence.
  • Abuse of Antitrust Authorities in Media Mergers – Investigate possible White House influence on the Justice Department’s positions on media mergers to reward favorable coverage, and punish unfavorable coverage, of the Administration.
  • White House Interference with SEC Apollo Investigation – Investigate possible White House influence on the SEC’s decision to close its investigation into Apollo Global Management, which loaned Kushner Companies $180 million.
  • Politicization of the 2020 Census – Investigate the Commerce Department’s reasons, purported and actual, for adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, and whether or not Secretary Wilbur Ross lied to Congress about the question’s origin.
  • Private Influence over the Veterans Affairs Department – Investigate whether the Veterans Affairs Department has allowed its policies and programs to be influenced by three members of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club with no relevant expertise.
  • Attacks on Impartiality of Civil Service – Investigate efforts to purge civil servants who are perceived as insufficiently loyal to the Administration, and examine how both to better protect the civil service from politicization and to strengthen its effectiveness.

III. Failures to Protect the American People

  • Inadequate Election Cybersecurity – Examine the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to help election jurisdictions identify vulnerabilities in their election infrastructure and respond to known and inevitable cyber threats.
  • Abuses by Immigration Agents – Investigate whether ICE and CBP are engaged in patrol, arrest, and detention practices that violate constitutional rights of citizens and non-citizens or exceed the agencies’ statutory authority.
  • Selective Enforcement Against Minorities and Political Activists – Investigate whether FBI and Homeland Security are using law enforcement resources improperly to target minorities and political activists, rather than to best protect public safety.
  • Inadequate Response to Hurricane Maria – Investigate the weak federal response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and the reasons for the Trump Administration’s delay in deploying military resources.