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Trump Actions Changing Congress        07/11 10:32

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Donald Trump isn't just changing the presidency during 
his first term in office. He's also changing Congress.

   More than perhaps any president in modern history, Trump has been willing to 
ignore, defy and toy with the legislative branch, asserting power and breaking 
norms in ways his predecessors would hardly dare.

   Republicans shrug it off as Trump being Trump, leaving Democrats almost 
alone to object. While the Democratic-run House took the extraordinary step of 
impeaching the president, the GOP-controlled Senate acquitted. Over time, 
there's been a noticeable imbalance of power, a president with few restraints 
drifting toward what the founders warned against.

   Think of it as "the incredible shrinkage" of Congress, said historian 
Douglas Brinkley.

   "It's created this massive void in our democracy," Brinkley told The 
Associated Press.

   As Trump seeks reelection with the country facing crises unseen in a 
lifetime, Congress is confronting questions about its ability to shape the 
direction and future of the nation.

   This week, the Supreme Court weighed in, acknowledging the "clash between 
rival branches of government" over Trump's financial records. Chief Justice 
John Roberts, writing for the majority to return the case to lower courts, said 
that while the subpoenas for the documents were broad, the president went too 
far in claiming virtual immunity from congressional oversight.

   "What was at stake is, is the president above the law?" said House Speaker 
Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., taking the ruling as a win for her end of Pennsylvania 
Avenue.

   The erosion has taken place in ways large and small.

   First, Trump took money for his promised border wall with Mexico without 
lawmaker approval, circumventing Congress's bedrock power over spending. Then 
he began to fill top posts with officials who did not have the support of 
senators, negating their role to advise and consent on nominees.

   And when the House launched investigations that led to impeachment --- the 
ultimate check on the executive --- Trump refused to comply with subpoenas, 
declaring them invalid. The courts are now left to decide.

   Presidents have almost always reached to grab power. Abraham Lincoln issued 
the Emancipation Proclamation to free enslaved people. Barack Obama issued 
executive actions on immigration when Congress wouldn't comply.

   But typically presidents only go so far, knowing Congress is eyeing their 
every move, ready and willing to intervene. The executive knows they may soon 
need votes from lawmakers on other matters, creating a need for cooperation.

   Trump rejects that model outright, treating the Congress as support staff to 
his presidency and relying on sheer force of personality to shape the 
government to his will. A simple Trump tweet can cower critics and reward 
loyalists all the same. His power only grows as lawmakers, particularly Senate 
Republicans, stay silent.

   The result is a an exhaustive, head-spinning era that's turning Capitol Hill 
into a spectator stand of those watching, reacting and shaking a fist as their 
institutional prerogative is slipping away.

   "There's a deeper institutional question," said Sen. Angus King, the 
independent from Maine. "The Congress is abdicating its responsibilities to the 
executive."

   The singular challenge to Trump comes from Pelosi, a seasoned legislator who 
captured the Democratic majority after Trump's first two years in large part 
because voters longed for a check on his power. In the Senate, Majority Leader 
Mitch McConnell has taken a different tack, working with the Republican 
president or at times around him as GOP senators avoid direct confrontations.

   "Congress is evolving," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., once a Trump rival 
for the White House.

   Rubio acknowledges the Congress is a different place than when he arrived a 
decade ago on the tea party wave. He wishes, at times, that Congress would be 
more assertive.

   "America is going through a transformational moment, as we have many times 
in our history," he said. He notes that lawmakers still join forces, including 
on his legislation on human rights in Hong Kong. "It's easy to watch what is 
happening here today and think these are the worst times in congressional 
history. That's not accurate."

   But day in and day out, Congress is mostly unwilling to pull together, 
Republicans declining to join Democrats to rebuke the president when he 
overreaches or confront him with bipartisan legislation to force his hand.

   "There isn't even a whimper out of the Republican side," said Sen. Dick 
Durbin of Illinois, the assistant Democratic leader.

   "Every president does that --- they will push their authority as far as they 
can," Durbin said. "For Trump, it has been nonstop."

   The forces diminishing the Congress have been at work for some time, as 
relentless partisanship leave lawmakers unable to meet the moment and produce 
solutions for a splintered nation.

   Polling shows Americans overwhelmingly support a legislative response to 
many top issues. They back changes to policing tactics in the aftermath of mass 
demonstrations over the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of law 
enforcement. They support background checks on firearm purchases to stem 
violence and mass shootings. And they want immigration law changes, 
particularly to protect young immigrants from deportation.

   Over and over, Congress failed to deliver. In the void and buoyed by it, 
Trump extends his reach.

   Sarah Binder, a professor at George Washington University, said the 
Constitution's separation of powers can only take the country so far. 
"Parchment doesn't stop these battles," she said.

   When people ask incredulously if the president can do something he has just 
done, she said, "Presidents can get away with this if there's no broader public 
or his own party reining him in."

   Brinkley warns that unless Congress exerts itself, with Pelosi's House and 
McConnell's Senate pulling together to bring the nation to common ground, Trump 
will press on, emerging as the nation's first "authoritarian" executive.

   "Those are the people's houses. That's where the people's voices are heard," 
he said. "They need to show the American people that Capitol Hill is working."

 
 
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