Obstruction. Opposition. These words are similar phonetically and visually, but a world apart in meaning. I’m not going to drag you to the dictionary for strict definitions; rather we’ll rely on examples to show the vast differences.
Obstruction lies in the political arena. Opposition belongs with governing.
Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff and Sean Spicer, Press Secretary for the Trump administration have pushed back hard at Democrats, calling them obstructionists when it comes to working with the executive branch agenda. In particular, they say Dems are, for political reasons, obstructing the process of getting the Oval Office fully staffed. In fact the Dems have not been obstructionists, they have been serving the extremely important governing role of the opposition.
Mr. Trump made it clear that he wanted a different kind of White House staff. He also made it clear that he thought many of the agencies and large staffs were unnecessary. He has kept to that ideal. There are some 550 executive branch appointments and nearly 1,200 more outside the Oval Office that require Senate confirmation. To date, only about 80 have been nominated and many of those have been confirmed. With the confirmation of Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta last week, the president’s cabinet is full. Admittedly, there has been no haste in the Democrats’ agenda, however, Mr. Priebus and Mr. Spicer cannot complain about the 1,600 plus deputies, assistants, chief financial officers, general counsels, heads of agencies, ambassadors, and attorneys for which there are still no nominations.
The work of vetting executive branch staff is critical and complicated. Mr. Trump has a right to nominate whomever he wishes to fill his staff, but his desire to glean Washington D.C. outsiders for these jobs adds to the complexity, rigor, and duration of the process. Of the Washington insiders who were nominated, John Kelley, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley, and Elaine Chao were all confirmed in January. Why? Because they were known commodities. Their vetting had been done for the most part and confirming them was more the historical norm. When nominees had neither worked in government nor in the field they were tagged to lead, the process slowed considerably–taking much more work. We can’t have just anyone getting briefed on classified material and running our most important government agencies.
Add to this many nominees did not complete their homework and the Trump team did no vetting of their own before nominating, making the job of the Senate akin to the labors of Hercules. Several nominees were found to have glitches that could keep them from serving. None was so blatant as Gen. Mike Flynn who was forced to resign after one month due to unrevealed and unethical (at best) connections to foreign countries. Gen. Flynn didn’t need confirmation for his position, and was hired without sound vetting–that is what happens if the process is ignored. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price had to be double and triple scrutinized due to being under investigation for possible illegal stock trading, leading to large, personal profits within the area he was tapped to lead. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any dealings with he campaign or Russian interference. Almost as a condition of employment, he said he’d sideline himself. As of now, there’s only one deputy confirmed to take the lead on any such investigations–25 assistants are still open.
Mr. Trump fired all 46 Obama era U.S. attorneys, which is fine, but they all had caseloads and pending trials. None has been replaced. Plaintiffs and defendants are out there waiting for their constitutionally guaranteed speedy day in court–more political obstruction.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has one general council announced but not yet nominated and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is alone in his department. Both departments are being looked at for closure, but even shutting the doors takes some staff. And so it goes with the other 70 agencies, boards, commissions, and departments that are in need of nominees. This neglect by the White House is political obstruction and shedding light on these governing problems is conscientious opposition.
Ever since the Women’s March on January 21 and the subsequent themed marches, flocking to town hall meetings, and massive communication with members of Congress there have been questions asking, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” Well the answer isn’t about obstructing. It’s about advocating specific regulations and laws. It’s also about being responsible in opposition. Protestors are putting the administration and Congress on notice that we are here, we’re making noise, and we are not going to sit back and accept legislation or programs simply because the numbers are stacked against us. This type of continued, visual/vocal activism is proven to be a winner. The Vietnam War was literally marched away. The civil rights movement started with a small minority, in a local arena, with no governmental support, and grew into massive legislation for equal rights in 10 years.
Liberals are interested in clean resources, renewable energy, recognition that science matters, and equal treatment and opportunity for everyone. We want to get stuff done and understand government can help. We’re not going to vaporize and make single party governing easier simply because they won an election. We’re not an obstruction doing nothing–we’re the active opposition.