This afternoon I called my Congressman, John Faso (NY-19) to raise the issue of Trump’s declaration that he has unlimited power to pardon himself and to halt any investigation, for any reason whatsoever.
(I was responding to the letter from his lawyers to Mueller back in January that the NY Times published this past Friday, but then later saw that earlier today he himself tweeted the part about unlimited pardon powers.)
It was no surprise that the staffer in Faso’s office didn’t know whether the congressman had a view on the matter. I’ve gotten similar “blank stares” to the question of whether it’s a good idea for Trump to take classified info from Israeli intelligence and share it with Russia’s ambassador and foreign minister.
And I went several rounds with his office on health insurance, receiving a series of letters (e.g., here) that didn’t answer my actual questions, and that displayed fundamental misunderstanding of how insurance works.
On today's call, I said it was important to me to live in a democracy rather than a dictatorship, and that the claims Trump’s lawyers made on his behalf would create the conditions for a dictatorship.
I asked the staffer himself if he had a view on whether it was a good idea for a president to have unlimited powers.
Now, I know it’s bad form to give the staffers a hard time. They’re just doing their jobs, after all. They’re not voting in Congress, so their personal opinions are really not relevant.
But surely there’s a line somewhere, isn’t there?
If I asked the person on the phone, “Do you think 2 plus 2 equals 4?”, and they said, “I’m not at liberty to say, sir,” that would be weird, right? Are we to think that our congressman is hiring people who don’t have fixed views on the things you learn in 1st-grade math?
Turning to a subject more relevant to politics and policy, what if there were some doubt as to the views a member of Congress held about the Holocaust? And say I asked the staffer on the phone, “Do you think it was a bad thing that Nazi Germany killed 6 million European Jews, simply for being Jewish?”. The staffer might very well answer, “I’m not at liberty to say, sir,” but I think it would be worth knowing that my congressman was hiring people who couldn’t answer whether genocide was wrong.
The current situation isn’t quite comparable, since being an autocrat is not the same as the genocidal killing of 6 million people. On the other hand, turning yourself into an autocrat is, by definition, the path toward getting away with pretty much anything that you think serves your interest.
So maybe it’s fair to ask staffers whether they agree with unlimited presidential powers. True, it’s not their job to vote on the floor of the House, but it tells us something if the guy who is voting on the floor of the House is in the habit of hiring people with no particular attachment to democracy.
Anyway, I plan to call again tomorrow. I’ll probably leave the staffer alone and just see if I can get an answer from Faso.
Not holding my breath.
ps Anyone in Faso’s district who wants to call, the number for the DC office is (202) 225-5614. The staffers may not be at liberty to say whether they oppose dictatorial powers for the president, but they do at least conduct themselves professionally. 😊
Day 2's conversation is here.