President Donald Trump has been only moderately successful in passing his agenda so far—but that’s not because Congressional Democrats have put up a fight. It’s because members of the judiciary have been effective in halting some of Trump’s signature efforts.
Since Trump took office, the Democratic leadership has been outspoken in its opposition to Trump’s policy positions, legislative agenda, and Cabinet appointments. But when it comes to actual success, Democrats must credit either moderate Republicans, or other branches of government.
Despite Elizabeth Warren’s midnight speech, for example, Sen. Jeff Sessions was easily confirmed to head up the Justice Department. The initial nominee for Labor Secretary, Andrew Pudzer, was doomed not by Sen. Chuck Schumer, but by moderate Republicans who felt that allegations, made during Pudzer’s divorce made him an administration liability.
And despite targeted attacks, from a host of prominent Democrats and high-profile environmental activists, EPA nominee Scott Pruitt’s conflicts of interest weren’t laid bare until a judge ordered Pruitt to release records of any business dealings he made with energy companies that might compromise his position.
The same is true with Trump’s executive orders. Despite waves of protests, it took federal judges to halt a measure declaring a 90-day moratorium on travel from seven countries known to harbor terrorists. Rep. Luis Gutierrez may have cried at a press conference Friday, but it was a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that ultimately forced the administration to withdraw the EO in lieu of changes.
Democrats are working furiously to prevent changes to President Barack Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act. But Republicans have already voted to kill a potential filibuster and bypass a floor vote on repealing Obamacare in favor of defunding the measure during March’s budget hearings.
A court in Oregon may have dealt a more fatal blow to the GOP’s reform efforts than Democrats ever could: demanding that the government honor a “bailout” provision written into the law and pay millions of dollars to insurance companies who lost profits when they joined the Obamacare exchanges.
The decision effectively killed the Republicans’ plan to cut ACA out of the budget and starve the law until insurers —and the public—demanded a change.
With several cases filed against President Obama’s use of the executive order more generally, it’s unlikely President Trump will escape litigation on that issue, either. Left-leaning legal groups could use precedent established during a friendly administration to keep the heat on an unfriendly one.
So where does that leave Democrats? Largely adrift, it turns out, and mostly campaigning for future electoral challenges to Republican control. Warren and fellow Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, for example, are considered frontrunners for a Democratic Presidential nomination in 2020.