Republicans in two dramatic ways demonstrated Tuesday the degree to which they have descended into a party of bullying, brute force and contempt for the rule of law.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement after the House vote on a resolution to disable President Trump’s fraudulent emergency declaration: “Today, the House of Representatives took one of the most consequential votes in over a decade that limits presidential overreach and helps protect the constitutional balance of power between the White House and Congress." He added, “I am glad that 13 of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle rose above party politics to help defend congressional authority as it relates to this President and our nation’s future leaders.”
Yup, a mere 13 Republican House members could muster the courage to vote for the resolution repealing Trump’s blatantly unconstitutional power grab. The final vote was 245 to 182 (all Democrats supported the measure). In other words, 182 Republican members, including the majority leader and the rest of the GOP leadership, supported the usurpation of the power of the purse and a raid on military construction funds to mollify Trump. I suppose 13 is better than zero, but when less than 7 percent of House Republicans can defend a rudimentary constitutional principle, the party is in grave danger of losing its legitimacy.
The voices of conscience and principle are too few on the GOP side of the aisle. While the rebuke of a president of this magnitude is impressive and unparalleled, voters should conclude that all but the 13 have abandoned their oaths in favor of subservience to a zealous authoritarian who is willing to do just about anything to please his base and satisfy his ego, no matter what the facts.
Don’t expect much better from the Senate, where the resolution now goes. So far, a mere three Senate Republicans have stepped forward to support the resolution, despite the caterwauling by many others just weeks ago warning Trump not to set a terrible precedent that might one day be wielded by a Democratic president.
Even worse, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) a self-appointed constitutional guru, deems the issue too tricky. He cannot reach a conclusion, he lies. We remember fondly his acute constitutional antennae when President Barack Obama exercised executive authority to push through relief for “dreamers,” a more mild form of overreach that did not contemplate seizing the power of the purse after being denied funding by Congress. I am quite certain that McConnell knows Trump’s emergency declaration has shredded the separation of powers; he is too proud of his legal acumen to deny that this is so yet too cowardly to agree with the resolution’s sponsors.
The other demonstration of abject unfitness to govern on Tuesday came from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who took to Twitter in an apparent attempt to threaten Michael Cohen, Trump’s ex-lawyer who will testify Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee. On Tuesday, Gaetz tweeted, “Hey @MichaelCohen212 — Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.”
Gaetz insisted that this was no threat, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was having none of his excuses. She sent out a statement warning members of possible sanctions for their social media comments, prompting a full retreat and apology from Gaetz:
Gaetz subsequently deleted the original tweet. But his shameless bit of thuggery highlights the lack of personal restraint and decency that Trump has popularized on the right. Trump and his base no doubt will cheer this attack not only on Cohen but also on the House’s oversight powers. Lawlessness, threats, bullying, whatever the market will bear — these are the distinguishing features of the Republican Party.
No one should write off Gaetz as an outlier in the party. It was Trump who nefariously suggested that Cohen’s family be investigated. It was Trump who suggested former FBI director James B. Comey better watch his testimony because there could be tapes of their conversations. (There weren’t.) It was Trump who encouraged Michael Flynn to hold out for immunity rather than cooperate with an ongoing investigation. Trump has popularized witness intimidation and tampering; Gaetz learned from the leading practitioner of witness bullying.
I can think of no better reason not to throw the book at Trump for obstruction, witness-tampering and intimidation, and related offenses as facts warrant. We see the impact that the president’s conduct has on the body politic and how easily respect for the law, for legal processes and for simple decency erode. Whether before or after Trump leaves office, he should be made an example and a warning to future leaders tempted by lawlessness. He cannot escape accountability for his actions or his corruption of an entire political party.