The prospects for a civil and straightforward transfer of power are fading fast. A clearly decisive election result is proving unable to shield other norms of democracy from tumult orchestrated by a lame duck with 10 weeks still in power.
President Trump instructed his administration Monday night not to cooperate with emissaries from President-elect Joe Biden, hours after destabilizing American national security by firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper on suspicions of disloyalty. At the same time, Attorney General William Barr authorized his department to break with decades of precedent to investigate claims of voter fraud even before the counting is complete — prompting the Justice Department's top election crime prosecutor to quit in protest.
But Republicans who will remain in authority once Trump is gone, most notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, kept their four years of extraordinary fealty going and aligned behind the president's longshot efforts to sully if not reverse the election result.
American democracy has taken a beating over the last four years, but Election Day may set the table for historic reforms.
The severe stress test for democratic norms can be counted on to further intensify if President Trump gets re-elected. Continuation of a divided Congress would likely perpetuate gridlock on most policy fronts. But should Joe Biden win the White House, and the Senate turn Democratic as well, the new president would take office with an ambitious stack of ready-to-go democracy reform bills on his desk — all of them strongly backed by Democrats newly in control of the entire Capitol.
And those sweeping overhauls of the laws governing campaign financing, voting rights, gerrymandering, executive branch ethics, the courts and even the inner workings of Congress would all be both on the table and viable. The question would be how high they would be on a Biden priority list and how much political capital he and his congressional allies would be willing to spend to get them done.
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Four lawmakers from each party were honored Tuesday for being good members of Congress. But they were cited for behavior that has nothing to do with their ideologies, legislative skill or rhetorical flair. Instead, they were singled out for running decent modern workplaces and taking care of their constituents.
The awards were the third annual set handed out by the Congressional Management Foundation, one of the most prominent nonprofits advocating the view that a more smoothly operating legislative branch is one of the main cures for democracy's ills.
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