“We cannot assume that everything will be fine once Donald Trump leaves office,” writes Elizabeth Warren. “The next president will need to have the energy, expertise, and vision to safeguard our country, rebuild the government swiftly, and make fundamental changes so that it works for the American people. […] One year from now, the next president will take charge in the middle of multiple crises—from the border, to our foreign policy, to the undermining of health, safety, and environmental rules, to the hollowing out and corruption of our public institutions.”
The next president will also have to see the staggering scope of damage done by Trump and his band of nation-wreckers and know how to deal with it. In her latest plan, “Restoring Integrity and Competence to Government After Trump,” Warren demonstrates that she does recognize the massive job that would be ahead of her and just how fundamental it is to the health of the republic to do so. Had that kind of reckoning been done by the Obama administration after the Bush years, we might not be in the mess we’re in now. The idea that the president is entirely above the law took hold with Bush and reached full flower in Trump. This election, and the next president, might well be our last chance to restore this a nation under the rule of law. Warren’s plan shows that she’s been thinking about how to do it.
Warren makes her case, both as the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under President Obama, an “agency has now returned more than $12 billion directly to people who were cheated,” and in her Senate tenure. She says she’s done her homework, having “spent the last seven years in the Senate studying the intimate details of how our government works, finding the levers that can bring about big structural change, and identifying the key positions that are responsible for making these changes.” What’s more, she writes, “I have learned from a diverse community of experts who share my vision for progressive, structural change and who know the executive branch inside and out.”
That entails, on day one, she says, “aggressive steps to root out the corruption and incompetence of the Trump administration and to hold that administration accountable.” Here’s the steps she would take on day one: remove all political appointees, prevent political appointees from burrowing into career positions, and establish a Justice Department Task Force to investigate corruption during the Trump administration and to hold government officials accountable for illegal activity. But that’s not all: she will review the performance of independent agencies and remove leading officials for cause where there is justification to do so, identify federal contracting arrangements that arose as a result of corruption in the Trump administration—and end them.
I suspect that she’s already got a running list of what’s going to have to be fixed. After all, at least twice a week I get a press release from her Senate staff announcing her latest fact-finding efforts. This is while she’s running for president.
To do all that on day one means having a transition team ready to go immediately, and she promises her transition “will move faster than any transition in modern history to identify appointees and develop plans for making change starting on day one.” To that end, she says she will announce her Cabinet nominees by December 1, 2020, and the rest of the top nominations by December 15, with all senior and mid-level White House positions staffed on Inauguration Day.
She also has some real, good-government restrictions on those nominees: no current lobbyists, no employees of for-profit federal contractors without her direct approval, no executives of companies that have broken federal law or have been under investigation in the previous six years, and no one getting a “golden parachute” from their company to retire and go to work for the government. She’d also require all seniors officials to fully divest from any investments that could be influenced by the employee’s agency and from all complex investments including commercial real estate and privately owned or closely held businesses. Any interests in family trusts would have to be cleared by ethics officials to be retained. She also vows to shut down the revolving door coming from the other side, out of the White House and into the lobbying world for all Cabinet members, heads of agencies, her vice president, and herself “for life.”
She also has a lot of requirements for that Cabinet, like her secretary of education having been an public school teacher, a homeland security secretary who “believes that immigration makes our country stronger, not weaker,” an attorney general and Justice staff who believe in the rule of law and voting rights, an EPA head who is committed to fighting climate change, and an FCC commissioner who will restore net neutrality. She also commits to a Cabinet and senior team “that reflects the full diversity of America.”
She really has been thinking about this government—how to restore it and how to make it representative—from top to bottom. There’s much more to read of her plan, which you should definitely do. But this is the powerful thought I’ll close with, one that we’ve been needing to address for 12 years. “Rebuilding our government to work for the people won’t just happen,” she writes. “It’s going to require painstaking work, extraordinary drive and urgency, and a serious plan to root out the corruption and incompetence that Trump will leave behind.”