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Opinion Republicans should listen to Lindsey Graham on Russia

These senators want to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)
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Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are going to do everything they can, including blocking a secretary of state nominee of a president of their own party, to prevent a slow slide into an unseemly relationship between Russia and Donald Trump. They are bound and determined to get to the bottom of the hacking story and to exercise vigilance in the confirmation process.

Appearing on CNN Wednesday night Graham said, “I do believe the Russians hacked into the (Democratic National Committee). I do believe they hacked into (John) Podesta’s email account. . . . I do believe that all the information released publicly hurt Clinton and didn’t hurt Trump. I don’t think the outcome of the election is in doubt. What we should do is not turn on each other but work as one people to push back on Russia.” He cautioned, “I think Hillary Clinton lost because she wasn’t an agent of change and she tried to disqualify Trump and she wasn’t able to do it.” he said. As he put it, “They’re trying to destabilize democracy all over the world. Not just here. Here’s what we should do. We should tell the Russians that on no uncertain terms, you interfere in our elections, we don’t care why, we’re going to hit you and hit you hard, we’re going to introduce sanctions, it’ll to be bipartisan.” Graham plans on introducing new sanctions to punish Vladimir Putin and his inner circle for undermining Western democracies.

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On Fox News, Graham made it crystal clear what the bright-line test for secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson is: “I want you to come forward and say whether or not you believe they interfered in our elections, they’re interfering in other democracies. If you say they are not, I will be troubled by your judgment. Do you support new sanctions? And if he doesn’t, it would be very hard for me to vote for him because you’re giving a green light for this behavior.”

There certainly may be other disqualifying issues, including conflicts of interest. Nevertheless, Graham’s standard seems to be a sound one. If you cannot acknowledge facts based on overwhelming evidence, cannot recognize a hostile act against the United States by a foreign foe and do not support doing something about it, it is hard to see how you can be the secretary of state. Graham generously sets a low bar here, imploring Tillerson (and Trump) not to double down on the president-elect’s weird tendency to defend Putin. (Republicans scoffed at Secretary of State John F. Kerry when he repeatedly made Iran’s case on matters like access to U.S. banks. They should be equally alarmed if the new administration becomes Putin’s U.S. public relations department — a job ably filled by its propaganda station RT.)

What is puzzling is how many Republicans are prepared to give their stamp of approval before Tillerson answers a single question. Needless to say they would never give a pass to a Democratic nominee who denied Russia’s aggression against Western democracies and who refused to respond in America’s defense.

Republicans have for years declared that Congress is a co-equal branch of government and must exercise its independent judgment rather than blindly follow White House dictates. They were right then but there is serious doubt whether, when the president is a Republican, their responsibility to the Congress, the Constitution and the country takes precedence over their desire to ward off Trump’s wrath and that of his core base. If they do not do it early, on matters as clear as Russia and as important as the confirmation of the secretary of state, they aren’t likely to grow a spine on more mundane matters where the calls are tougher.