House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) at the Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Opinion writer

Our constitutional system designates the president as the person to execute the laws. Congress passes them, the president signs them, and then he is obligated to enforce them. His oath is clear on this point: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” What if he won’t or cannot execute his duties and/or cannot preserve, protect and defend the Constitution? The Constitution says the remedy is impeachment.

Within the past 24 hours we’ve seen the president threaten to ignore or violate the First Amendment and threaten a group of Americans with denial of service to which they are legally entitled.

On Wednesday, President Trump said he found it “disgusting” that the press can write what it wants and suggested that NBC’s “license” be revoked for “fake news.” (After nine months, he still has no idea how the government works and what various agencies, commissions and departments do.) In response, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) tweeted a statement reading: “Mr. President: Words spoken by the President of the United States matter. Are you tonight recanting of the oath you took on January 20th to preserve, protect, and defend the First Amendment?” I asked Sasse by tweet and through his office if Sasse thinks Trump has renounced his oath, and if so whether he would favor impeachment. Neither Sasse nor his office would reply.

This is unacceptable. Sasse also took an oath to defend the Constitution. While it is the House’s job to initiate impeachment, as an elected leader Sasse can certainly raise the question of fitness and recommend the House proceed. Why tweet and then clam up — the political equivalent of knocking on the door and running away? Trump is a travesty, but it is the Senate and House Republicans who apparently believe, according to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), that the president is not fit to govern. To do and say nothing is reckless and not in keeping with their own oaths of office.

It is the Senate and House Republicans who have heard and seen Trump denigrate the First Amendment, deny the Russian threat to our electoral system, fire an FBI director who did not bend to his will, attempt to badger the attorney general into resigning, etc. The question is not whether Trump thinks he has recanted his oath; it is whether Sasse and his colleagues do. It is time Republicans started doing their job rather than shuffling their feet when Corker talks or tweeting questions. 

Each day Trump provides more examples of his inability or unwillingness to carry out the laws. The Post reports:

President Trump served notice Thursday that he may pull back federal relief workers from Puerto Rico, effectively threatening to abandon the U.S. territory amid a staggering humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Declaring the U.S. territory’s electrical grid and infrastructure to have been a “disaster before hurricanes,” Trump wrote Thursday that it will be up to Congress how much federal money to appropriate to the island for its recovery efforts and that relief workers will not stay “forever.”

This is horrifying on a moral level, but it is also evidence that Trump’s temperament and emotional instability undermine his ability to do his job — in this case, direct the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies and personnel to get Puerto Rico up and running. He cannot refuse to provide services because the news coverage has been critical or because the mayor of San Juan has been mean to him.

There is no policy or even political upside for Trump to threaten a group of Americans as he is doing. Helping them is not optional, not a function of whether they pay homage to him. Increasingly it seems he cannot separate his personal feelings from his obligations under the Constitution. And unless and until Republicans begin to address this seriously, the country will remain at risk.

As for Democrats, their leadership appears to be so deathly afraid of discussing the president’s fitness in serious terms that they’ve left the discussion to fringe characters such as Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.). That’s a mistake. Mainstream Democrats need to raise in a sober way concerns about whether Trump’s emotional and mental state is now driving policy (e.g. on the Iran deal), endangering our civil rights, and interfering with his ability and willingness to carry out the duties of his job. It’s not in their power in the minority to drive impeachment, but it is their duty, as set forth in their oaths, to do what is necessary to protect the country. The very least they could do would be to engage their GOP colleagues and start asking hard questions. I suggest they start with Corker.