The Freedom Caucus, a grab bag of the most extreme right-wing members of the House, formed in opposition to what they saw was lackluster, insufficiently aggressive leadership. Their methods — the government shutdown; nixing the “Plan B” tax deal, only to get something worse — were often counterproductive but by hanging together, they made their presence felt. They successful derailed (unfortunately, in our view) any form of immigration reform. And frankly, they brought down a speaker of the House.
Now we see GOP leadership that enables President Trump’s flight from reality and attack on center-right, common-sense legislation. GOP leadership came up with politically inane ideas such as “repeal and delay.” Now it is pushing a thinly disguised protectionist border tax. GOP House and Senate leaders refused to name a select committee to investigate the Trump presidential campaign’s possible connections to Russia. They studiously avoid rebuking Trump for outlandish lies (e.g. crowd size) and won’t object to counterproductive and wasteful schemes (e.g. the wall, an investigation into nonexistent mass voting fraud). They show zero interest in enforcing the Constitution’s emoluments clause and/or demanding that Trump disclose his sources of income. They remain silent when Trump threatens and bullies an independent press.
What is needed in both the House and Senate is a “Reality Caucus” or “Truth Caucus” — or perhaps the “Cherry Tree” or “Mount Vernon” Caucus in honor of the president who could not tell a lie. Right now Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are a two-man truth squad debunking ideas such as the wall and tariffs. Graham publicly pleads with Trump to stop talking like a crazy person about massive fraud. McCain announced that he will oppose Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), who helped bring on the 2013 shutdown and whose indifference to military needs makes him spectacularly unsuited for director of the Office of Management and Budget. They could use some reinforcements.
More important, Congress and the country could use a reality check. Republicans who see Trump as a menace to the country nevertheless have kept their heads down and refrained from comment. They must step up and speak up. GOP House and Senate leaders are not leading; they are making excuses for and enabling Trump.
A short-term agenda would include: 1) an investigation into potential violations of the emoluments clause; 2) a refusal to support any tax reform plan that is not fully paid for; 3) prompt, immediate sanctions on Russia and staunch opposition to Trump weakening or lifting sanctions; 4) denouncing attempts to pressure federal employees to contrive (e.g. crowd size) or conceal (e.g. climate change) facts in their control; and 5) objection to measures (e.g. Trump’s executive orders) that attempt to bypass Congress and/or trample on federalism. In other words, they should be real conservatives — faithful to the Constitution, fiscally sober, supportive of a sound, values-based foreign policy, opponents of state propaganda and supportive of proper limits on the executive branch and the federal government. That, you undoubtedly noticed, is what conservatives used to say before they cast principle and honesty aside.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) during the campaign promised to be a check on the president; now he enables Trump’s shredding of the Constitution, abject lies and power grabs. He would have his members believe that they are on the same page as the president, who comes to speak to them but offers no substance and declines to take questions. (Hmm, might he not be on the same page — or even in the same universe — as the rest of them?) The time has come for a rebellion in the ranks aimed at stopping toadyism and complacency, at defending objective truth and at countering the most aggressive, expansionist power since the Cold War. Who is game?