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Opinion Republicans should brace themselves for checks and balances

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), center, joined by Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in March. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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Without docile GOP majorities in the House and Senate, President Trump would not have been able to dodge accountability for widespread conflicts of interest, the obstruction of the course of the Russia investigation, receipt of foreign emoluments or use of declassification as a political weapon. The Founding Fathers set up Congress as a check on the president, giving the legislative branch the power of the purse, oversight, advice and consent, and impeachment. Republicans have subverted that system by failing to do their jobs — be it to protect the special counsel, to conduct oversight into the White House’s interference with ongoing investigations, to police foreign emoluments or to turn away unqualified and unethical nominees.

It may be a whole new ballgame in January if Democrats win majorities in one or both houses, ranking member of the House Judiciary Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) explained on ABC’s This Week. Nadler vowed to hold the president’s feet to the fire on interference with the Russia investigation, arguing that obstruction is a crime and can be the basis for impeachment. He explained that “the real question when you get to impeachment is: Is the president’s conduct such that he is threatening the democratic order, threatening the separation of powers, gathering more power to the presidency against Congress, against the courts, against the people than ought to be?” He added that “you shouldn’t do it on a partisan basis as I said 20 years ago, and you shouldn’t do it unless the evidence is overwhelming that the president is in fact threatening the democratic order and threatening liberty.”

That is as good an explanation of the basis for impeachment as I have heard. The long list of actions that subverts the rule of law and undermines our constitutional system may include Trump’s baseless accusations against the FBI and the special counsel to undermine their investigation, possible dangled pardons in front of cronies who might testify, his tweets asserting criminal defendant Paul Manafort’s innocence while a jury was considering his case, his termination of former FBI director James B. Comey after reportedly asking him to go easy on former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his pressure campaign against Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself. Some of these may be crimes (i.e., a pattern of obstruction of justice), but many are not.

Boosting Manafort publicly while the trial is ongoing may not be jury tampering (a crime), but it violates the president’s oath to take care that the laws are faithfully implemented. Firing Comey under false pretenses and helping Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) release a false document smearing the FBI aren’t necessarily illegal, but the pattern of Trump’s conduct taken in its totality may threaten the integrity of our constitutional system.

Michael Cohen flipping? Opinion writer Jennifer Rubin says the Mueller investigation is looking more and more like a mafia case. (Video: Gillian Brockell, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

Nadler outlined other concerns beyond Russia that Republicans have failed to address:

The Congress is supposed to be a check and a balance on the president. . .We have not, under the — since the president took office and the Republican majority, they have not investigated, they have not held hearings, they have not held the president or the administration accountable on anything.
And that’s a terrible failure. If — if the Democrats take over, we will rectify that failure. We will — we will hold hearings. We’ll hold hearings on the — on the — on the culture of corruption with the president accepting for his business as payments from foreign governments that might influence his decision. And we just went over the standing and the law suit on that, that Senator Blumenthal and I brought along with 200 other Democrats.
We will certainly hold hearings on the separation of families at the border. You know, it’s not in the headlines anymore but there’s still several hundred parents who have no idea where their kids are after months. We will hold hearings on the reversal of the administration there and their refusal in court to defend the Affordable Care Act, which threatens to deprive 100 million Americans of insurance coverage for preexisting conditions.

Republicans, having failed to exert virtually any oversight, now use oversight as some kind of boogeyman to scare voters. Heavens, they might actually investigate corruption or deliberate concealment of the zero-tolerance policy. They might look to see if Trump is unconstitutionally receiving foreign emoluments. The nerve of these Democrats.

We shouldn’t forget oversight regarding Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh:

[GEORGE] STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman, I want to pick up on what Congresswoman Pelosi was saying right there. A lot of Democrats have said that they don’t believe that Brett Kavanaugh told the truth when he went before the Judiciary Committee. If it turns out that he does become Justice Kavanaugh and you’re chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, would you investigate him for possible impeachment?
NADLER: Well, I would hope the Senate would have done its job first. I would hope the Senate would — I hope the FBI has a free hand over the next week to investigate, and that certainly means to call in all the relevant witnesses. . . .
We can’t have a justice on the Supreme Court for the next several decades who will be deciding questions of liberty, and life, and death, and all kinds of things for the entire American people who has been credibly accused of sexual assaults, who has been credibly accused of various other things that — wrong things, including perjury. This has got to be thoroughly investigated. I hope the Senate will do so. If he is on the Supreme Court and the senate hasn’t investigated, then the House will have to.

He added, “We would have to investigate any credible allegations, certainly of perjury and other things that haven’t been properly looked into before.”

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Nadler also raised the question of Kavanaugh’s temperament, arguing, “What evidence does he have, for instance, that the Clinton’s had anything to do with any of this? Or did he make that up out of thin air? His evident animus toward the entire Democratic Party, toward people associated with it like the Clinton’s should be disqualifying.” If Kavanaugh gets on the court and starts exacting revenge (“What goes around comes around,” he vowed), it will be up to Congress to prevent serial miscarriages of justice.

Either because Democrats believe Kavanaugh lied under oath or believe, once on the court, that he violates his oath by refusing to recuse himself (thereby corrupting the courts) from cases on which he has already expressed extreme hostility toward one side (e.g., the Democratic Party, any Senate Democrat), the House Judiciary could investigate and, yes, decide to begin impeachment hearings. Any limitations on the scope of the FBI investigation now would intensify demands for post-confirmation investigation should Kavanaugh get on the court.

In sum, some oversight hearings may provide evidence that our constitutional system has been subverted; other hearings may reveal an administration suffused with incompetence, cruelty, lack of transparency and more. Still other hearings can provide the basis for seeking a Supreme Court justice’s removal. All are important. All are within the purview of Congress.

Increasingly, then, voters must understand that ending GOP control of Congress is a necessary predicate for the defense of our democratic system. Republicans’ protection racket for anti-democratic and corrupt conduct must end before more damage is done.

Read more from Jennifer Rubin: 

Reckless Republicans aren’t giving any thought to tomorrow

If we want to protect the Supreme Court’s legitimacy, Kavanaugh should not be on it

‘Conservatism’ seems to have lost all meaning