The White House has been called the ultimate bully pulpit – a skillful President can change minds and policies with nothing more than a well-timed comment or raised eyebrow. President-elect Donald Trump did exactly that earlier this week in a move that shows, contrary to criticism, he knows exactly how to be Presidential.
On Tuesday, House GOP leaders abandoned a plan to neuter an independent panel that investigates alleged ethics violations by lawmakers. Under the Republican proposal, the Office of Congressional Ethics would have come under control of the House Ethics Committee. In other words, the wolves would have been in charge of the dogs watching the flock. Supporters of the measure contend the change would give House members more due process rights. For example, the new arrangement would end the OCE practice of accepting and sometimes pursuing anonymous ethics complaints.
Trump’s skewering of the GOP plan was masterfully low-key. The President-elect tweeted that while the ethics watchdog was “unfair” the lawmakers, the GOP should not be prioritizing its own internal affairs ahead of more important issues. While Trump didn’t mention any specific issues, he was clearly talking about his economic agenda – taxes, jobs, regulation, et cetera.
This was really a brilliant move on Trump’s part. Like a skillful cowboy, he kept the GOP herd in line without having to use a whip or cattle prod. In fact, because he expressed sympathy for their ethics pain, he didn’t even get an angry moo from the usually touchy House Republicans. The result: a win-win for Trump. He showed supporters (and detractors) that he’s serious about enacting the policies that got him elected and gave a wink to those who think Congress probably needs more ethics oversight, not less. All without alienating the lawmakers he needs to get his policies into law.
Conversely, by making their ethics plan a priority, House Republicans simply reinforced the common perception that establishment politicians always put their concerns ahead of the voters’ needs.
Of course, Trump had some help in upending the GOP’s ethics overhaul. The plan took fire from all the predictable corners, including House Democrats and several independent watchdog groups. But, in yet another victory, Trump has received most of the credit for killing the proposal.
Keep an eye on this President Trump guy. He might just know what he’s doing.