After eight years of complaining about the Mitch McConnell-led Republican obstructionism, many Democrats, including me, face a crisis of conscience: Do we become what we deplored and decried by doing all we can to make Donald Trump’s presidency one term, obstructing every policy and action, while keeping government impotent for four years?
Or do we follow Michelle Obama’s call to “Go high?”
The truth is that these are false equivalencies. President Trump is not President Obama. Most important, resistance is not obstruction.
Democrats must not be afraid to resist everything they can, that is, until they are approached to help. That includes legislative policies, such as the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform, and appointments to the cabinet, federal judgeships and Supreme Court.
Democrats owe Republicans nothing.
They gave us Trump, and now they must own the chaos and destruction. Until Trump or Republicans ask for Democrats’ help and seek to collaborate, party leaders should do all they can to represent the voices of the resistance.
This is not a comfortable position for me, as a progressive Democrat. Even under Trump, I want progress. I want our institutions to work. And in no way do I want Democrats to be as deceitful and soulless as has been McConnell.
But times are different. Republicans can operate without Democrats. The only way the rest of us can have our interests represented is for Democrats in Washington to be the voices of the resistance.
Here are the differences:
First, despite the revisionist history of Fox News and others, Obama tried to work with Republicans — much to the frustration of us, his base. We can debate how effective he was, but he tried when he didn’t have to do so, even as then-minority-leader McConnell made sure that he would never get a Republican vote.
As Obama moved to craft the signature policy initiative of his presidency — the Affordable Care Act — he sought Republican help. The Gang of Six, the senators tasked with crafting bipartisan healthcare reform, included three members from both parties. Democrats did not need to include the GOP, as it controlled a near-filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate. So the Republicans were disproportionately represented to their Senate numbers. Democrats conceded their ultimate goal of a public healthcare option — a major concession to Republicans. Yet, ultimately, the ACA passed on party-line votes, so it may seem like this was Obama jamming through liberal Democratic legislation. But I can tell you that this was in no way what the progressive movement wanted — the obstruction had conservative fingerprints all over it.
Finally, honest people can argue whether the election was a referendum on the next Supreme Court nominee. It is inarguable, however, that the Constitution required Obama bring a nomination for the open seat, and McConnell used the system to obstruct that nomination.
Which brings me to a tweet by U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (my dad), who preempted the announcement of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, saying, “No matter who @POTUS picks in tonight’s reality-show ceremony, @SenateDems owe him nothing more than the consideration Merrick Garland got.” My initial sentiment was that this was great political posturing, but I was uneasy seeing something seemingly so hyper-partisan from a man who has always put what’s right above party politics. After a week of contemplation, I realized that he is correct. He is not saying obstruct. He is saying resist!
And it wasn’t just politics. He was representing his constituents. This is the only way for the majority of America to have our interests represented.
If Democrats controlled the Senate, that would be a different scenario. Then, Trump and the Republicans would have to work with Democrats — as Obama had to do with a Republican majority.
But Republicans don’t need Democrats. McConnell can continue to work the system with his party alone. If he changes the Senate rules, he needs to own the consequences. It may only fuel the resistance movement, but that is a fire that he built.