The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Only a smattering of Republicans are willing to keep tabs on Trump

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) during a committee hearing on March 14. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg)

This post has been updated. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) is not retiring, as the post initially reported.

The new group Republicans for the Rule of Law is out with its second ad seeking to head off President Trump from firing either special counsel Robert S. Mueller III or Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein:

Sarah Longwell, one of the group’s founders and a longtime Republican activist, wrote in an op-ed for the Hill:

Firing Mueller, Rosenstein or [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions would be a fundamental blow to the rule of law in the United States. It would resemble what happens in developing countries that lack checks and balances on executive power, and where leaders can depose those who threaten them. . . .
Beyond legal and constitutional considerations, it’s in the political self-interest of Republicans to protect the special counsel’s investigation. Democratic enthusiasm is already at a record high, and Democrats are already outpolling Republicans in primary elections by 7 percentage points. A Quinnipiac poll released last week finds massive public opposition to firing Mueller — and that even Republicans oppose firing Mueller by more than a two-to-one margin. If Trump goes down that path, a standard first term congressional swing election would likely be transformed into a Democratic landslide.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has decreed that no bill protecting Mueller would reach the Senate floor on his watch. “What McConnell has done is actually worse than not passing the Mueller protection legislation,” said Ian Bassin, the executive director of the nonpartisan Protect Democracy. “By slamming the door shut so definitively, he’s basically inviting Trump to cross the Rubicon by promising not to stand in the way.” He added: “I can think of only two reasons McConnell would do this: either he doesn’t care about the rule of law and the Constitution; or perhaps, just maybe, he knows like everyone else does that Trump firing Mueller would mark the end of the Trump presidency, and McConnell is baiting him to do it because privately he too can’t stand Trump.”

However, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) is plowing ahead with consideration of the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). “They got together, so I feel an obligation to keep my word and move forward,” said Grassley, according to The Hill. “But I can’t worry about what’s going on on the floor. I’ve just got to do what I can do.”

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What a quaint notion — one senator gives his word and keeps it, a group of bipartisan senators act to protect a shared interest in protecting the rule of law, and an outside group of concerned Republicans puts aside partisanship to urge their party act based on “enlightened self-interest and the country’s well-being” as Longwell put it. It is a commendable display of participatory democracy that we badly need.

Even if the Senate bill does not pass, it is critical for the country to see which Republicans actually do believe in the rule of law so they can be held accountable on Election Day. That, too, is how democracies are supposed to work. (Interestingly, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who sits on the Judiciary Committee recently polled a scant 3 points ahead of his Democratic challenger, Rep. Beto O’Rourke.)

Meanwhile, over in the House, six GOP congressmen have signed on to legislation to protect Mueller. Politico reports:

At least six House Republicans have endorsed the legislation in the past week, including three on Tuesday, despite a new round of assurances from Speaker Paul Ryan that the effort is unnecessary. A handful of others told Politico they’re open to the proposal but are still evaluating it.

Sadly, three of those six are retiring — Reps. Charlie Dent and Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania and Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — once more demonstrating that winning in the Republican Party is incompatible with those who refuse to carry water for Trump.

It would be interesting to hear why Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) thinks this is unnecessary. What assurance could Trump possibly give (if he gave one at all) that would not be subject to revision or repudiation? Ryan insults his members’ intelligence by insisting there is no risk Trump will induce a constitutional crisis.

The country should be heartened to see some veteran congressional Republicans, as well as some elected lawmakers, defy the president in defense of the rule of law. We should, however, be terribly dismayed about how few there are, and how out of step they are with the GOP base and congressional leadership.