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  • Congress could lose its power of oversight leading to an authoritarian government.  (Photo: US Capitol)

    Congress could lose its power of oversight leading to an authoritarian government. (Photo: US Capitol)

    Donald Trump, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican lawmakers are taking a page out of Hitler’s assault on the German Weimar Republic by undercutting Congress’s ability to serve as a check and balance on the president.

    One of Congress’s duties is to conduct oversight of the administrative branch.

    That includes the review, monitoring, and supervision of federal agencies, programs, activities, and policy implementation.

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    Congress’s oversight authority derives from its “implied” powers in the Constitution, public laws and House and Senate rules. Chief among them is its power to subpoena administration officials to appear before investigative committees.

    In effect, it is a co-equal branch of government, along with the administrative branch and the judiciary.

    But Trump and the Senate under McConnell’s leadership have undercut Congress’s authority to conduct government oversight, creating a real Constitutional crisis that could have far reaching consequences, beyond Trump, or his presidency.

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    The House has responded accordingly by making obstruction of Congress an article of impeachment.

    The charge arises because Trump has stonewalled the investigation. He’s ordered key administration officials both in and out of government not to testify in defiance of congressional subpoenas.

    He cites a broad claim of “executive privilege” that exceeds any ever made by any president before him.

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    Lower courts have consistently ruled against him, but now, the Supreme Court has chosen to review those rulings. That could push a resolution of the matter well into next year, long after the impeachment trial is over.

    The court’s action effectively undercuts the second article of impeachment, according to The Hill.

    Trump is clearly counting on the two hard-right conservative justices he appointed, creating a 5-4 conservative majority, to decide the matter in his favor.

    If that happens, Congress ability to serve as a check on the administrative branch will be severely restricted.

    But Congress faces an even bigger threat from within. McConnell has already let it be known that he is working with the administration to guarantee that the Senate impeachment trial ends in his favor.

    His refusal to conduct a full and thorough Senate impeachment trial, including calling witnesses, sets a terrible precedent that will forever limit Congress’s ability to conduct future oversight, and weaken it’s ultimate power over the executive–impeachment.

    This broad effort to undermine the power of Congress to serve as a check and balance creates an imperial presidency beyond the reach of the law. Hitler sought the same powers in his rise in Germany.

    In 1933, German President Paul von Hindenburg, a decorated World War I hero, appointed Hitler the titular head of the government. Together they conspired to undercut the power of the German Reichstag, or parliament.

    An independent Reichstag could have provided a important check on Hitler’s power, limited most of his excesses and possibly prevented World War II.

    But like chancellors before him, Hitler prevailed upon Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag and call a general election.

    Four weeks after Hitler was sworn in, arsonists set fire to the Reichstag building, the equivalent of our nation’s capital.

    The Reichstag Fire was used as a pretext for Hilter to declare a national emergency and suspended the fundamental individual rights enshrined in the German Constitution. (sound familiar?)

    The order, in fact, remained in affect until Germany was defeated in the war.

    Hitler followed up by ordering mass arrests of his political opponents. He consolidated his power by pushing through a bill establishing his authoritarian control of the government.

    He was empowered to enact laws without the consent of Parliament, even if they were inconsistent with the German Constitution. The Reichstag was effectively reduced from a legislative body to an “acclamatory auditorium,” according to one historical reference.

    In August 1934, the elderly Hindenburg died and Hitler was named President and Chancellor, consolidating his power over the government.

    There’s no question that Trump and McConnell are following a similar pattern to limit, or end, Congressional oversight of the government. Trump, in fact, has already proclaimed that Article II of the Constitution, gives him unlimited power.

    The Article, which outlines the power of the presidency, does just the opposite. It places clear limits on the power of the office.

    Yet, Trump has been charged with broad abuse of power.

    He pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, his chief political rivals and engaged in an extensive effort to obstruct the House’s impeachment inquiry and deprive investigators of key witnesses and documents, according to impeachment articles.

    It should come as no surprise that Republicans in Congress have already become an “acclamatory auditorium” for Trump. McConnell has already undercut the Senate’s authority to conduct a fair and thorough impeachment trial.

    If the president’s argument for absolute immunity from congressional oversight prevails before the Supreme Court, the nation will be reduced from a democracy to authoritarian rule by a chief executive who is above the law.