By Madeleine Dean
This is not normal. It was dramatic and vividly disturbing. On Aug. 27, President Donald Trump accepted his party’s nomination live from the White House’s Rose Garden in front of a slew of unmasked cabinet members and onlookers in the midst of the pandemic that has claimed over 180,000 lives.
Added in with other appearances from the Rose Garden during the week, mostly by Trump’s family, naturalizing citizens and pardoning others on live television, and an appearance by a sitting cabinet member; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo while on “official” state department business. The Republicans’ convention week left many dizzy from the number of norms disregarded and Hatch Act violations.
The latest transgression of the Hatch Act reveals a president that has gone farther than ever to mix his political agenda with official business.
By way of history, the Hatch Act of 1939 draws an ethical line, keeping federal employees prohibited from conducting political business inside taxpayer-funded federal buildings or on government time. But the overreach of the executive branch proves yet again this president’s belief that he and his administration are above the law.
On Aug. 26, the former director of the United States Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, explained the Hatch Act as “the wall standing between the government’s might and candidates… Citizen Trump is no longer presenting himself as a candidate. Now your government is telling you who should rule you.”
Trump has demonstrated time and again that he disregards Congress, views criticism as a conspiracy, and feels accountable to no one but himself. And this is most clear when we see how this administration attempts to undercut all avenues of oversight.
As a connected example, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB)—the very body tasked with overseeing and ruling on Hatch Act violations—is currently empty. With these seats vacant, this administration has set up a system that allows Hatch Act violations to go unnoticed, unpunished, and an unaccounted.
But the truth is that this president is accountable: with a constitution and an electoral process and the people have the opportunity to hold him as such this November.
And then, once freed from this corrupt administration, we must add stronger punishment for political appointees who choose — or are pressured — to violate the Hatch Act. We must be able to remove violators; obligate the Office of Special Counsel to investigate and give them the tools they need, and penalize bad actors with meaningful fines.
In addition, we must mandate a fully appointed MSPB board and ensuring it remains active to enforce this vital act. Those who abuse the privilege of being a public servant must be punished — those who violate the trust of the people must be held to consequence.
The mockery of accountability and defiance of checks and balances that define this Presidency will come to an end—and similar to the post-Watergate era, Congress has a responsibility to restore our faith in our democracy. Anti-corruption rules must be strengthened so we never repeat this period again.
In the words of English writer, D.H. Lawrence, “Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar,” and they should not change with the President.
We must reclaim ethical norms. This is not normal.
U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Democrat, represents the Montgomery County-based 4th Congressional District. She writes from Washington D.C.