- Ralph Naderlongtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate. His most recent book is titled To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse Course.
As President Trump threatens to shut down the federal government over border wall funding, there have been some shake-ups in the White House. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will resign as he faces at least 17 federal investigations into suspected ethics violations. A former fossil fuel industry lobbyist, David Bernhardt, will become the interim interior secretary. Meanwhile, Trump has tapped Mick Mulvaney to become acting chief of staff to replace Gen. John Kelly. Mulvaney already holds two posts in the administration: White House budget director and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And in Texas, a federal court has declared the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate unconstitutional, setting up a likely challenge at the Supreme Court. We are joined by longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader. He is author of the new book “To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse Course.”
AMY GOODMAN: It’s been another tumultuous week for the Trump administration. As President Trump threatens to shut down the federal government over funding for a border wall, there have been some shake-ups in the Trump White House.
On Saturday, President Trump announced Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will soon resign. Zinke is facing at least 17 federal investigations into suspected ethics violations. During his time in office, Zinke presided over the largest rollback of protections to federal land in U.S. history and opened up vast swaths of U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas drilling. Former fossil fuel industry lobbyist David Bernhardt will become the interim interior secretary. He is the deputy now.
Meanwhile, Trump has tapped Mick Mulvaney to become acting chief of staff to replace General John Kelly. Mulvaney already holds two posts in the administration: White House budget director and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Meanwhile in Texas, a federal judge has declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, setting up a likely challenge to President Obama’s signature healthcare law at the Supreme Court.
To talk about all of this and much more, we’re joined by longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader. He is author of the new book To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse Course.
Ralph Nader, welcome back to Democracy Now! Let’s start where we ended, with that long list of just what’s happened this week, and that is this Texas federal judge—yes, nominated by President George W. Bush but confirmed by a Democratic Senate—this judge calling the ACA, calling Obamacare, unconstitutional, and what this means.
RALPH NADER: I think it’s going to be overturned. It’s almost unanimously condemned by legal experts from all sides. It’s considered intellectually bad opinion by conservative legal scholars and denounced even more vociferously by progressive legal scholars. And it doesn’t have an injunction in the country, so there’s going to be no changes, unless, on rehearing, the judge really goes off the rails, but then I think he would be overreaching in terms of his own jurisdiction. So, we’ll wait for the circuit court of appeals.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the circuit court of appeals rules, and then it could go to the Supreme Court right in time for the 2020 elections. President Trump tweeted this morning, “The DEDUCTIBLE which comes with ObamaCare is so high that it is practically not even useable! Hurts families badly. We have a chance, working with the Democrats, to deliver great HealthCare! A confirming Supreme Court Decision will lead to GREAT HealthCare results for Americans!” he wrote. So, if you can respond to that and talk about an issue that’s not talked about very much in the corporate media, and that is the issue of Medicare for all?
RALPH NADER: Well, that opens the door. I mean, if Obamacare, which is full of loopholes, excessive complexity—still 29 million people without health insurance, tens of millions underinsured. The corporations run away with record profits—drug companies, hospital chains, insurance companies, huge executive compensation. So, if they overturn judicially—which is not likely—Obamacare, even The Wall Street Journal has said that this will open up the path to single payer, full Medicare for all, everybody in, nobody out, much more efficient, and, above all, gives you your free choice of doctor and hospital. You’re not corralled in these narrow networks. And if you go out of network, you have to really pay a tremendous price out of your own pocket.
So, that’s what we’re awaiting the Congress to do now. The congressional committees, with their fat budgets and staff, under the Republicans, have been sitting on their hands. They haven’t been engaging in public hearings, Amy. They haven’t been engaging in supervising the corruption in the executive branch. And we’re going to present to the progressive chairs of the House of Representatives a whole list of hearings that have to be held in order to put these in play, electorally, in terms of public opinion and in terms of civic action. I can give you a quick list if you’d like.
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.
RALPH NADER: OK. First, obviously, is one on single payer. Full Medicare for all is now supported by a majority of the American people, a modest majority of doctors, even bigger majority of nurses. What are we waiting for here? It’s much more efficient, as well.
There needs to be hearings on corporate crime by the Judiciary Committee. There’s a corporate crime wave in this country. According to Malcolm Sparrow at Harvard University and other sources, $350 billion in annual billing fraud and abuse in the healthcare industry. That’s almost a billion dollars a day. It isn’t even mentioned under the Republicans in Congress.
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine put out a report, peer-reviewed, over two years ago: 5,000 people die every week in this country in hospitals due to preventable problems. We know what they are. There are no congressional hearings here.
There’s got to be congressional hearings on foreign policy. We don’t have any revaluation of failed foreign policy or the wars of aggression or the violation by the White House of the Constitution, federal statutes, international treaties. There used to be hearings by Senator Fulbright on the Vietnam War, which helped end the war. The House Foreign Relations Committee has got to work on that.
Criminal justice reform, that one is long overdue. I mean, the Congress is the main investigative branch of the U.S. government, and it’s been asleep while the Republicans have been cashing in with these corporate cash contributions.
How about climate devastation? I think we shouldn’t use the words “climate change.” It’s too benign. When I was growing up in New England, climate change meant summer, autumn, winter and spring. We’re talking climate crisis, climate devastation. Been no hearings on that, a major threat to the planet and to the natural world.
So, you could just go list after list. Minimum wage, that should be up right away. That’s a frozen $7.25. Thirty million Americans are making less today than workers made in 1968, adjusted for inflation.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, I—
RALPH NADER: And that’s got to be the House Labor Committee.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go further with this issue in our next segment, but I wanted to talk about these latest development and get your response, for example, to Trump tapping Mick Mulvaney to become the acting chief of staff to replace General John Kelly, Mulvaney already holding two posts in the administration—he’s White House budget director and acting director of something I think you care a lot about, the Consumer Financial Protection board—Bureau. Mulvaney’s promotion came as The Daily Beast website obtained a video recorded in 2016 of then-Congressperson Mick Mulvaney, in a congressional debate, calling Donald Trump “a terrible human being.” This is what he said.
REP. MICK MULVANEY: Yes, I’m supporting Donald Trump. I’m doing so as enthusiastically as I can, even the fact I think he’s a terrible human being. But the choice on the other side is just as bad.
AMY GOODMAN: So, there he’s calling Trump a “terrible human being.” Talk about the role that Mulvaney has played and what’s going on in the White House right now. And does it matter who is chief of staff? And is it significant that he has been approved by the Senate in his current roles, and so that could mean he could be subpoenaed by the Senate and testify in a way that an adviser that wasn’t approved might not be able to be?
RALPH NADER: Well, it’s been called the second most important job in the federal government, chief of staff to the president.
Mulvaney is a massive outlaw. He has—everywhere he goes in the federal government. He shuts down law enforcement. He harasses civil servants. He aids and abets Wall Street crimes with his supervision of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He’s basically said one of the main purposes of this agency is to protect Wall Street, when it’s just the opposite. It was to bring them to justice when they commit these crimes, these deceptions, these manipulations with other people’s money, pension money, mutual fund money. So, he really is an outlaw. And unfortunately, our legal system doesn’t give ready access to the courts by citizens to sue to remove him from office. He can be removed by the president.
But let no one be puzzled when he starts applying with another outlaw, John Bolton, the national security adviser to Donald Trump, to foreign and military policy. These people are really clinically outlaws. They don’t believe in the constitutional power of Congress to declare war. They don’t believe in the Constitution of Congress to confirm nominees that are in important offices, major offices, as the principal officers, as the Constitution provides. They’ve never met a war they haven’t liked. More and more weapon systems. They fought against the auditing of the Pentagon budget, something conservatives say is obvious, runaway corruption in corporate contracting, Lockheed Martin’s F-35.
So, I think President Trump is digging himself an even bigger hole by putting Mulvaney there. The combination of Mulvaney, John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is a lethal one even for Trump’s political survival. He’s trying to get sycophants around him, which is usually a late stage in the collapse of a regime.
AMY GOODMAN: So, on Saturday, President Trump also announced that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will soon resign. I think he was given an ultimatum of something like by the end of the year, Zinke facing at least 17 federal investigations into suspected ethics violations. During his time in office, Zinke presided over the largest rollback of protections to federal land in U.S. history, opened up vast swaths of U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas drilling. Very much following in the model, I think, of Scott Pruitt, the former EPA head, who was then replaced by Andrew Wheeler, the acting EPA head, who was a coal lobbyist, it looks like Zinke is being replaced by the acting—by his deputy, also an oil and gas lobbyist.
RALPH NADER: Well, that’s what was foreseen by a full-page ad over a year ago by dozens of companies that are in the outdoor recreation business, led by Patagonia and their CEO, Yvon Chouinard. They basically predicted this is exactly what Zinke was going to do. He was going to try to overturn existing statutes and regulations by fiat. And he’s in court. Environmental groups have taken him to court many times. So, it’s a good event that he is now out of office, and Mr. Trump has to start all over again in terms of trying to corporatize the resources that are on our federal lands, that are owned by the American people in trust for posterity.
AMY GOODMAN: In this possible government shutdown that could take place right before the Christmas holidays, on Friday, Trump wanting something like, he’s saying, $5 billion for the border wall. You see his shutdown showdown with Pelosi and Schumer in the Oval Office.
RALPH NADER: Well, as usual, the Democrats don’t use all the arguments they have. What Schumer and Pelosi should have said in that White House confrontation, that was televised, was, “Mr. President, if you shut down the federal government, you’re going to cost far more American lives than a porous wall that is eroding farmer property values and ranchers on the Mexican border, because the shutdown will involve about 800,000 workers.” Look where these workers are coming from: Homeland Security. He’s going to shut down Homeland Security to build the porous wall for so-called border security? How about this? The law enforcement officials would be furloughed, in terms of undermining public safety. How about the environmental protection, dealing with toxic air, water pollution? How about people in the Food and Drug Administration, supposed to be looking out for food safety, recalls of contaminated food? The Democrats don’t know how to make strong arguments, whether it’s for single payer, cracking down on corporate crime. They really have to wake up.
I’m going to hold them, and I think a lot of citizen groups are going to hold them, to high expectations in the House of Representatives. There’s huge corruption in the executive branch. You have poll after poll in America, and that, it comes in number one: What most people are concerned about is political corruption, because they know how it plays out in their daily lives. They’ve got to have, through the House Oversight Committee, prime hearings on political corruption in the Trump administration, some of which is inherited from prior administrations.
AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts on impeachment?
RALPH NADER: Well, impeachment is going to await the report of the Mueller investigation. If he comes out with documentation in terms of high crimes and misdemeanor potential, the House of Representatives has a constitutional obligation to initiate impeachment hearings. I mean, it’s just basically investigating the high crimes and misdemeanors of President Trump and other high officials.
We shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. I mean, our Founding Fathers let presidents, between elections, be unaccountable except for one measure, and that is the impeachment function. And basically, they said, “Look, we’re going to let Congress fire a high government official if they impeach in the House and convict in the Senate.” There’s a good book on impeachment that educates people, that has come out recently, and there are other information sources.
I mean, people have got to stop thinking that impeachment is like the ultimate neutron bomb or something. It should be viewed as a normal way where the smallest but most powerful, under the Constitution, branch of government, the only really way they can have to hold the executive branch accountable, person by person, official by official. So, Congressman Jerry Nadler, who’s heading the House Judiciary Committee, has got to look at his constitutional duties here.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, I’d like to ask you to stay with us as we talk about your book. Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate, has just written a new book, which we’re going to talk about in a moment, To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse Course. Stay with us.