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During his State of the Union address this year, President Trump said he would stonewall the legislative process if members of Congress don't play ball, writes Neal.

A year of broken standards for America’s democracy

Neal is federal government affairs manager at R Street Institute, a nonpartisan and pro-free-market public policy research organization.

The term "democratic norms" has become a misnomer over the last year. America's governing institutions are undermined by elected officials who dishonor their offices and each other. Standards of behavior and "normal" processes of governance seem to be relics of a simpler time. Our democracy has survived thus far, but the wounds are many.

Free speech and free press have been the White House's two consistent whipping posts. Comments such as "I think it is embarrassing for the country to allow protestors" and constant attacks on press credibility showcase President Trump's disdain for the pillars of democracy. Traditional interactions between the administration and the press are no longer taken for granted. Demeaning, toxic criticisms have become so common that they're being ignored. As the administration revokes critics' press passes and daily briefings are canceled, normalcy in this arena is sorely missed.

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Balance of Power

Support for expanding presidential power rises among Republicans

A growing number of Republicans support expanding the power of the presidency, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

More than 40 percent of Republicans surveyed in July said presidents would be more effective if "they didn't have to worry so much about Congress or the courts." That was up from 26 percent who supported the idea in February 2017, according to the survey.

The change was primarily driven by those identified as "conservative Republicans," whose support for expanding presidential power rose to 52 percent compared to 26 percent in March 2018. Less than a third of moderate and liberal Republicans supported the idea then and now.

While only 16 percent of Democrats believed in expanding presidential power in the July survey, 29 percent had supported the idea in August 2016, when Barack Obama was president.

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Balance of Power
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Democratic presidential candidates debate at the Fox Theater in Detroit.

At the next debates, ask about things a president can do

Marcum is a governance fellow at R Street Institute, a nonpartisan, pro-free-market, public policy research organization.

July's Democratic presidential debates highlighted a number of important national issues. From health care to economic inequality, candidates offered many purported solutions. The vast majority of these ambitious plans, however, face a fundamental constitutional roadblock: Congress.

Without congressional support, plans such as Medicare for All or amending the Immigration Nationality Act are dead on arrival. Voters, candidates and media alike are well aware that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would prevent any such legislation from passing his chamber, and if Republicans take the House, the chances for passage are even slimmer.

But if you were completely unfamiliar with American civics, you might have assumed from watching the debates that a president's role is to make policy and lambaste Congress when it does not comply. But of course, all legislative power rests with Congress. Viewers of the debates would be better served by questions that illuminate the presidency's actual institutional roles. These responsibilities are vital for governing, but we often fail to press candidates about them until it is too late.

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President Trump wants to abolish OPM, an action that some argue would inject partisanship into federal hiring practices.

Trump plan to dismantle personnel agency would weaken safeguards against partisanship

The Conversation

May is a senior research associate at Boise State University.

The U.S. government has put expertise and competence ahead of political considerations when it hires people for more than 135 years.

As a result of changes made during President Chester Arthur's administration, the vast majority of government jobs can only be awarded on the basis of merit. Prospective employees historically had to complete a competitive exam and today must complete detailed applications, undergo interviews and get their background checked. Employees also cannot be fired or demoted for political reasons.

These rules apply to all but about 4,000 politically appointed employees among the 2 million people who work for the federal government, not counting postal service workers. Those only require presidential support and, for around 1,200 of these jobs, Senate confirmation.

The Trump administration is taking several steps that could remove safeguards against partisanship and nepotism in the federal workforce. Among other things, it is pushing to dissolve the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the administration of the civil service system. Democrats are objecting to this move.

As a public administration researcher, I look at how political partisanship influences the relationship between government employees and elected officials.

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