What Just Happened? A Weekly Roundup of Politics

The House Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal (MA) has requested six years of Trump’s personal tax returns, as well as for several of his businesses. He has asked for this information from the IRS to be delivered to Congress by April 10th. This action has political controversy written all over it in our divided nation. While it is typical for the IRS to audit the taxes of both Presidents and Vice Presidents, the House wants to confirm that these audits are, in fact, happening and being done correctly.

Trump however, has bucked the decades-old trend of presidential candidates releasing their taxes to the American public, stating they were too complicated and that people wouldn’t understand them. (Newsflash: Everyone’s taxes are confusing!)

Republicans claim that because the Mueller Report didn’t contain a smoking gun (that we’ve seen, at least), Democrats are trying to pin something, anything on the President. But it’s not that simple. If Trump was a typical politician that had been vetted for many years by constituents this might be more of a rational argument. But this is Donald Trump. He was known far before his presidency as a businessman who made sketchy deals, declared bankruptcy countless times, and still managed to gild his whole penthouse apartment and Mar-a-Lago estate.

It’s precisely because someone like Trump is our president that his tax returns are incredibly essential to lay bare to the public. Maybe he wasn’t found guilty of collusion, but if Mueller also didn’t exonerate him of wrongdoing, there are more things to be discovered — especially while we wait for the report to be presented to Congress and published for the public.

In other Trump news, our president was caught flip-flopping late this week as he rescinded his earlier comment (well, tweet) that he would close our southern border if Mexico didn’t completely halt the flow of “ALL illegal immigration.” This hollow threat created a huge wave of discussion on what would happen to the relationship with our third biggest trade partner behind Canada and China. Obviously, it would be a catastrophic economic move, and since being reminded of the facts, Trump decided he would instead give Mexico a “one-year warning” before stating that he might potentially levy a tariff on cars coming into the country (which would be very challenging if his new trade deal actually gets ratified).

This seems like one more instance where Trump says something outlandish only to recoil after countless aides and advisors explain reality to him. (For example, the US Chamber of Commerce estimates that $1.7 billion worth of goods and services transverse the border every single day!)

Finally, another moment of recoil for the president this week was his decision to wait until after the 2020 election to overhaul the Affordable Care Act (ACA). There’s a judiciary challenge to the ACA by Judge Reed O’Connor who deemed the law unconstitutional after Congress got rid of the individual mandate. The only reason the ACA passed in the first place was that the individual mandate was viewed as a tax. Now that this tax has been removed however, the constitutionality of the bill has been challenged by 20 states. The argument, which is weak, states that because the individual mandate was deemed unconstitutional, the whole ACA must also be unconstitutional.

As the fight is unlikely to make it all the way to the Supreme Court, Trump is banking on it so he can place the blame on someone other than the executive branch. “Repeal and replace” was proposed 70 times in Congress when Republicans had the majority and failed every time. While the ACA is far from perfect, it has created the space for nearly 12 million people in 2018 to receive health insurance. It also holds the caveat that people with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied coverage. Trump has even waffled on that — some days he supports it, other days he doesn’t.

One must wonder why, after his supposed “No Collusion!” victory lap after the Mueller Report, would he shift the news cycles so quickly to healthcare, to then, just as promptly, renege on his promises. After stating recently “The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of healthcare. You watch,” he’s already backpedaled to say that the party won’t address healthcare until after 2020.

It often appears that this administration is playing a shell game with the attention of the American public. It’s hard to keep everything straight as it changes from minute to minute. The term shell game, also known as a short con, may be too generous. Holding a nation this distracted and exhausted for years on end feels like a long con… so maybe he does, in fact, play games.

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.  

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