Remember the name Ellen Weintraub. She’s the Federal Election Commission chairwoman who on Thursday rebuked the president and stood up for the rule of law and for the Constitution that she swore an oath to uphold. In a written statement after President Trump’s assertion that he would listen to a foreign government’s offer of opposition research, Weintraub wrote:
Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office. It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept.
She continued, “Electoral intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the beginnings of our nation.” She explained the Founding Fathers knew that “when foreign governments seek to influence American politics, it is always to advance their own interests, not America’s.” She warned, “Anyone who solicits or accepts foreign assistance risks being on the wrong end of a federal investigation.” Contradicting Trump, she (as did FBI Director Christopher Wray) advised that anyone who is offered a “prohibited donation” should report it to the FBI. Weintraub, a Democrat, understood that she takes an oath to the Constitution, not to the lawless president. She spoke up in an effort to make certain that others understood this distinction.
Compare Weintraub’s statements with the actions of Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). Blackburn blocked a bill brought forward on Thursday by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) that would have required campaigns to report offers that are already illegal. She is in favor of Russian meddling? Well, she is in favor of a brand of tribalism that is so morally blinding as to cause her to oppose safeguarding our elections from hostile powers.
In a pathetic effort to defend her vote, she made a long, rambling statement insisting that the bill was overbroad, would somehow entrap volunteer doorknockers on campaigns and would cause campaigns to report “dreamers” (!?). She managed to complain about President Barack Obama telling then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more flexibility after the 2012 election. (Excuse me, did he ask for oppo on Mitt Romney?) It was utterly ridiculous and utterly deplorable.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) went to the floor to blast Republican obstruction. He declared that “the shame of this is that our Republican colleagues can’t even bring themselves to say that when a foreign nation tries to interfere in our election, it ought to be reported to the FBI. How minimal, how minimal — and how disgraceful it is that our Republican friends cower before this president, when they know that the things he does severely damage democracy.” He added: “This one is a new low. ... To say that it is okay to interfere, that we shouldn’t have any law enforcement, that we should have no knowledge, is to encourage Russia, China, North Korea, Iran to interfere in our elections with no recourse.” He concluded: “Shame. Shame! It is truly outrageous that this unanimous consent request, which should bring all of us together, is being blocked by our Republican friends.”
The Republican Party has so badly debased itself that it now refuses to prevent a candidate from shielding those who would subvert our democracy. That, sadly, puts the GOP on the side of dictators, foreign spies and regimes such as China, Russia and North Korea.
All public figures have a choice. They can be resolute in defense of the Constitution, or they can be lackeys of a president who’s willing to betray our democracy. When Weintraub is asked what she did when our democracy was imperiled, she can say she stood up in its defense. Blackburn will say what, exactly? I sold out America so that Trump wouldn’t be embarrassed? I violated my oath of office so that I wouldn’t be demonized like Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.)?
Blackburn is not an outlier. She is emblematic of a party and of a right-wing media machine, including pundits who know very well that Trump’s comments are monstrously wrong. These people have jettisoned principle, patriotism and honor. Americans of goodwill must run Trump’s party out of power up and down the ticket in 2020 — and shun those who carried their water when the country needed truth-tellers.