Washington – Donald Trump’s sweeping plans to redo the presidency – and give himself more power than ever if he is re-elected to the White House – received a cold reception from members of his own party in Congress.
The former president and his allies are promising to bring independent federal agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission under direct presidential control, revive the practice of “seizing” funds appropriated by Congress, and remove employment protections for thousands of civil servants in the executive branch, apparently to replace them with Trump’s own handpicked political appointments.
The proposals, which are set out in the New York Times story earlier this week, because of Trump’s years of complaints about the “deep state,” the media, and Congress itself standing up against his autocratic tendencies. They rely on a thesis, long popular on the right, called “unitary functional theory,” a model in which the president has sole power over the entire executive branch of government, including independent agencies and even federal prosecutors — like, say, the investigating the president himself.
Senator JD Vance (R-Ohio), who has already endorsed Trump’s bid for a second term, said Trump’s power grab would be necessary to keep the power of bureaucrats and agency officials intact. He called Trump’s plan to give the presidency more power “necessary to have a constitutional republic.”
“To have true separation of powers, the president must have the prerogative to administer laws,” Vance told HuffPost. “If you have these alphabet soup agencies where the bureaucrats can’t be fired and they’re not under the control of the president, you’ve created a fourth branch of government that’s not accountable to the people. That’s a real problem.”
“What we’re trying to do is identify pockets of independence and capture them,” Russ Vought, Trump’s former director of the Office of Management and Budget and one of the main proponents of the power, told the Times.
Yes some debate on the left about how seriously the scheme is being treated, and whether it is just campaign fodder that would probably not become law. So far, it’s clear that Democrats in Congress would unanimously oppose the plans, and at least some Senate Republicans would be willing to join them. The expansion of presidential power would ultimately come at a great cost to members of Congress, who value their ability to oversee appropriate industries and funds.
The top Republican appropriators also expressed opposition to the idea of reviving the president’s impeachment authority. Congress passed a law in 1974 banning the tactic after a fight with President Richard Nixon, who withheld $40 billion in funding passed by Congress during his first term in office. Another act of Congress would be needed to revive the practice.
“The Constitution is very clear about the role of Congress and the power of the purse, so I wouldn’t do that,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the top Republican on the Senate appropriations committee, told HuffPost.
“I don’t think I agree” with the Trump team’s plans, said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R.W.Va.), who also serves on the committee. “I want to have the independence of appropriations.”
Republicans who serve on the Senate commerce committee were equally wary of ways Trump could infringe on their power.
“I think those are independent agencies that are designed to be that way for obvious reasons, so I’m not sure what that will accomplish,” said Sen. John Thune (R.D.), the Senate’s No. 1 Republican. 2, by HuffPost, when asked if he would support bringing the FTC and FCC under presidential control.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) – chairman of the commerce committee, which oversees both agencies – did not endorse the plan, either. Instead he switched to FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan, a key Republican target for her aggressive strategy of taking on big tech companies.
“I will say that the FTC’s abuse of power by Lina Khan will add significant momentum to Congress’s efforts to rein in unregulated, independent agencies,” Cruz said.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who also serves on the commerce committee, said he would have to “look very carefully” at any proposal to bring the agencies under executive control. He expressed the desire of the FTC and the FCC to act in a non-partisan manner.
According to the Times, Trump allies are drafting an executive order that would require independent agencies to submit actions to the White House for review. The move, if enacted under a second Trump presidency, would likely face a legal challenge.
“I think it’s very important for us to remember that he can just wave a wand and invalidate the statutory structure for these specialized agencies,” Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said of the former president who was impeached. “It doesn’t matter what he thinks. The law is the law. If he wants to change the structure of the agency, he’s going to have to get somebody to introduce a bill.”
Schatz said if Trump wants to change the structure of federal agencies, he should do so by appointing commissioners who agree with him.
“It’s exciting to think about the new ways Mr. Trump would do damage, and it’s always worth worrying about, but the truth is there are statutes in place and he’s going to have to obey them,” Schatz said.