ERIC BERGESON: The Country Scribe — Electoral College Is Here To Stay

The Electoral College is with us forever. Barbara Boxer can introduce bills to abolish it until the cows come home, but ending it requires a constitutional amendment, which would require 37 state legislatures to approve it. At least 12 of those state legislatures would have to volunteer to reduce their impact in the presidential election by more than 50 percent.

It isn’t going to happen.

Second, not a single elector is going to change their vote, millions of signatures on petitions nonwithstanding. When we voted in Minnesota, we voted, not for Trump or Clinton, but for one of two sets of 10 electors. Those electors are party hacks selected for the honor in return for years of service stuffing envelopes. The most they would ever do would be, in the case of a president elect developing debilitating health problem, to withhold their vote and send the election to the House of Representatives.

But switching a vote to the other party’s candidate? Never going to happen. Not even once.

What interests me the most: The Constitution’s “emoluments” clause, which prevents a president from gaining financial or any other personal favors from a foreign government, is about to move from obscurity to fame. No president thus far has risked running afoul of this clause, even down to gifts of whiskey or cigars.

The emoluments clause represented a big break from traditional diplomacy by the Founding Fathers. Eighteenth-century diplomats were accustomed to bribes, and it was the size of those bribes that determined foreign policy more than the interests of a diplomat’s home country.

Although it was mocked by European powers, the emoluments clause stuck and was soon copied by other countries.

Technically, Donald Trump can’t violate the clause until he takes the oath of office. But if, once he takes office, one of his hotels were to host a diplomatic reception promoting the use of their services to foreign diplomats as a way to curry favor with the president, as his hotel in D. C. did this week, that would be, without question, an impeachable offense.

The Wall Street Journal has urged Trump to divest all of his business holdings before he takes office. That may seem extreme, but the WSJ is right. Trump is going to have to take some major steps in that direction to avoid violating the Constitution within days of taking office. His hotels would have to turn down all business from foreign diplomats and officials, among other even bigger problems— like his massive debt to Chinese and German banks, which he might be tempted to renegotiate from his position of increased prominence.

We live in interesting times.

Leave a Reply