Iowa’s U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley has earned a reputation as a leading defender of government watchdogs. Encouragingly, he has shown a willingness to challenge members of his own political party, a rarity in American politics.
In the past two months, President Donald Trump has announced the removal of two inspectors general, who are tasked with conducting independent oversight of federal agencies. Grassley and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers demanded an explanation for the firings, but the administration’s response this week was woefully inadequate, saying only that Trump lacked confidence in the officials.
Grassley must not leave it at that. He should continue pressing the issue and fully employ the Senate’s Constitutional powers to demand answers for the American people.
“If the president has a good reason to remove an inspector general, just tell Congress what it is. Otherwise, the American people will be left speculating whether political or self interests are to blame,” Grassley said this week following the Trump administration’s response.
“Speculating” is a generous word in this context. Many Americans are convinced by a huge body of compelling evidence that Trump has regularly abused his presidential power in pursuit of his own political and self interests.
Grassley deserves credit for being more willing than other Republicans to criticize the president. But would Iowa’s senior senator respond more forcefully to a president of the opposing party? Past experience suggests he would. In fact, he did.
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President Barack Obama faced a similar controversy in the first year of his presidency, when he removed Gerald Walpin, a Corporation for National and Community Service inspector general appointed by George W. Bush. Grassley and others rightly criticized the Obama administration for giving vague and conflicting explanations for Walpin’s removal.
Grassley used his status as ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee to lead an inquiry into the firing, including conducting witness interviews, reviewing thousands of documents and publishing a 62-page report. Since Grassley and his colleagues were in the minority at the time, they noted, they did not have the authority to compel disclosure of all the information they sought.
Grassley and his GOP colleagues now are in the Senate majority, so they are in a position to demand a full explanation from the president.
Grassley understands better than most that government watchdogs must be unbridled by partisanship. He demonstrated that in 2009, and he should do the same now.
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