Background Briefing: February 13, 2020


A Way to Rein In Trump

We begin with the bi-partisan vote today in the Senate on the Iran War Powers resolution in which 8 Republicans joined the Democrats in an effort to restrain President Trump from going to war with Iran without congressional authorization and examine ways to restrain a president who is breaking norms and pushing the envelope to use powers more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy. Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and author of The New Era of Secret Law, joins us to discuss her article at The New York Times “The Power Trump Can Wield Like a Dictator: Congress must fix the law governing national emergencies before our democracy pays a hefty price.”  With the one year anniversary of Trump’s declaration of a sham emergency on the southern border under the National Emergencies Act passed by Congress in 1976 coming up this weekend, we will discuss ways to fix this broken law that has been used 63 times by different presidents. But in the hands of an unrestrained president bent of vengeance with the authority to shut down communication systems, freeze the bank accounts of Americans Trump does not like and deploy military forces for domestic purposes, we should all be alarmed. Indeed Trump is using the National Emergencies Act to do an end run around Congress to fund his wall, something he has proudly admitted, so Congress must get behind the Article One Act introduced by Republican Senator Mike Lee which terminates emergency presidential powers after 30 days, and do so with a veto-proof majority.


Trump’s Vengeance Tour and His War on the Worlds Most Powerful Office

Then we speak with Benjamin Wittes, the editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution who is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a law analyst at NBC News. The author of Confirmation Wars: Preserving Independent Courts in Angry Times, he joins us to discuss his new book, just out, Unmaking the Presidency: Donald Trump’s War on the World’s Most Powerful Office, co-authored with Susan Hennessey. We assess how unusual and dangerous Trump’s deeds and misdeeds are in the light of presidential history and how Trump has created a type of leadership that emphasizes personality over process, with often disastrous results. Amid growing concerns that Trump might get reelected in spite of the chaos and criminality, we will examine his constant campaign style of leadership by soundbites which prioritizes communication, or miscommunication and lies, over policies and programs, and why he is able to slough off scandal and stay one step ahead of the sheriff.