If President Trump were to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) a few weeks ago, “that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency.”
If Trump fires Mueller, said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) Tuesday, it would be political “suicide.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday he’s “received assurances” Mueller’s firing “is not even under consideration.”
Mr. Speaker, have you met Donald Trump?
And Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) says the president is “too smart” to do it because “it would provoke some sort of reaction by Congress.”
With few exceptions, congressional Republicans are cowed by this president. They’re accustomed to making excuses for him, and if they were going to stand up to him, they’ve already had plenty of chances. Thursday, via tweet, Trump made no bones about his view that he can jettison Mueller whenever he chooses. So, while anything’s possible, it’s tough to imagine that if Mueller gets fired before he completes his investigation, members of the GOP caucus will come together to take meaningful action that punishes Trump. Nothing they’ve done up to now suggests that they’ve got the requisite backbone.
It’s been nearly a year since Trump fired James Comey as FBI director, and the best that a lot of these professional brow-furrowers and hand-wringers could muster, at the time, were reactions ranging from “disappointed” to “troubled” to “Trump made the right decision.” Even though that firing accelerated the president’s current legal troubles — and led directly to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointing Mueller — GOP members of Congress still don’t appear to see the parallels.
Since Comey’s firing, they’ve stuck with Trump through last year’s dubious Syria missile strikes, a burgeoning deficit, two reported affairs, emerging allegations of a heretofore unreported love child, tariffs (freaking tariffs) and a perverse adherence to let’s-hear-both-sides-ism when it comes to torch-marching bigots.
They’ve left the nuclear codes in the hands of a man whose tweets read as if their author were foaming at the mouth. They’ve shrugged as he’s burned through a chief economic adviser, a chief of staff, an arsonist-in-chief — er, chief strategist — a secretary of state, a VA secretary, a press secretary, two national security advisers and three communications directors in 15 months on the job. (Did I miss someone? Does it matter?)
Meanwhile, he’s still got his daughter and son-in-law on staff. Accused wife-beaters are welcome on Trump’s team, until they’re not. And he’s sticking with a housing secretary, an interior secretary and an EPA administrator embroiled in scandals over sundry reports of misuse of government resources. The White House is an adult day care with only one ward in its charge: His “Sesame Street” is Fox News; his afternoon snack is Filet-O-Fish.
With all that going on, I bet Trump is quaking in his boots at the prospect of tougher oversight from House and Senate Republicans. Pass the tartar sauce.
What you can find in Congress are any number of Republicans willing to trash-talk the president off the record. GOP members I’ve spoken to in the last year have repeatedly told me they loathe and fear the president. One anonymous member told me he thinks of Trump as the Russian submarine captain from “The Hunt for Red October.” Remember that? “You arrogant a‑‑. You’ve killed us.” These aren’t the purple-state squishes of Trump fans’ imaginations. These are — or were — red-state, red-meat conservatives.
Harder to find is a member like Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who publicly refused to endorse candidate Trump and remains among the president’s critics to this day. There’s a slightly larger category of members who’ve gone on record with their criticisms of Trump — Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) among them — but their common trait is that they’re not running for reelection. Then there’s Ryan, Hill Republicans’ supposed leader until he announced his retirement this week, who once called Trump’s comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel “racist,” but then went ahead and endorsed him, anyway.
If only our Constitution’s framers would’ve had the forethought to make the legislative branch coequal to the executive branch, perhaps we’d see members of Congress show some spine. Short of that, it’s too bad the framers didn’t think up some sort of mechanism by which Congress could remove a rogue president.
We’ll just have to hope that congressional Republicans begin to realize that as much as we all appreciated the tax cut, it wasn’t worth letting Trump run roughshod. We’ll have to hope that they see how badly their credibility, their country and their party — my party — have been compromised in the last couple of years. Let’s hope they see that loyalty to Trump is a one-way political street. And let’s hope, however unlikely, they decide firing Mueller is a bridge too far.
If they won’t take a stand out of a sense of patriotism, or so they can look themselves in the mirror, it’s time they at least saw that the lessons of Watergate are being learned all over again. The GOP spent 1973 defending President Richard Nixon, calling the whole thing a familiar-sounding “witch hunt.” By 1974, they were running for the exits, but it was too late. They lost 48 seats in the House.
Don’t hold your breath. If there’s one thing politicians know, it’s polls, and they all see the same thing: In the latest Economist/YouGov poll, Trump had 85 percent approval among Republicans. The same voters Republicans need in November.
With Ryan’s departure from the House, I suppose that there’s a flickering hope he’ll want to salvage his legacy by standing up against the president’s excesses. There are rumblings — well, more like murmurs — that the Senate is considering legislation to protect Mueller. (Leave aside, for the moment, that Trump would have to sign any such law or have his veto overridden.)
But don’t let anyone, leastwise a senator, head-fake you with a line like “it would be suicide for the president to fire” Mueller. (Or, for that matter, Rosenstein.) If the idea of politicians putting party before country shocks your conscience, then we’ve got bigger fish than this to filet.