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Opinion Sen. Rob Portman is the profile of a Trump enabler

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) in March 2018. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

He is just shy of 64 years old, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget, a former U.S. trade representative, a former congressman and now in his second term in the Senate. You would think, by this time, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) would feel free to follow his conscience, the consequences be damned. He does not need his position, and in any case is not on the ballot until 2022. Yet he operates seemingly in perpetual fear of triggering President Trump’s ire and — oh no! — a primary challenger.

The Post reports:

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), an advocate for Ukraine, said, “I thought it was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign government to investigate a political opponent.” But Portman also added: “I also do not think it’s an impeachable offense.”

You would think that an “advocate for Ukraine” would be horrified that the president illegally withheld aid appropriated by Congress so as to extort Ukraine, demanding that its president make a public commitment to provide dirt on former vice president Joe Biden, at a time Ukraine is fighting for its survival against Russia. You would think someone of Portman’s stature would realize that if Trump can extort foreign governments to aid in his reelection, future presidents can do the same, thereby sacrificing U.S. sovereignty and placing elections in the hands of foreigners. You would think that Portman, who has served in the executive branch, would understand that even the request to a foreign power to interfere in our elections is a grave breach of the president’s oath of office.

For Portman, Trump’s offenses are matters of “style”; his racist attacks, his constant lying, his assaults on democracy and his corruption not worth confronting. He was not moved by Robert S. Mueller III’s findings of not less than 10 categories of conduct amounting to obstruction of justice. Nothing seems to move Portman to break with the most corrupt and dangerous president in our history.

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He recently told Post contributing columnist Gary Abernathy: “In Washington, reporters are consumed by Donald Trump’s tweets and comments and I could spend my whole day talking about that, but I try not to.’’ When it comes right down to it, he is not willing to confront the president whom many of his constituents see as “willing to take on all comers, the Chinese, big companies, Big Pharma.”

Sure, Portman likes Trump’s tax cuts, judicial appointments and funding for opioid treatment (although he was willing to slash Medicaid as part of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act). However, any Republican (including Vice President Pence) would support those items. For such small and ordinary crumbs, Portman has given Trump a pass on grotesque self-dealing, stonewalling Congress, obstruction of the special counsel’s investigation and extortion of Ukraine for his partisan ends.

And even if he is not willing to support impeachment, he is not going to vote for this guy for four more years, right? Nope. That is exactly what he says he will do. Portman concludes that none of Trump’s conduct disqualifies him from four more years. Trump is deserving of reelection in Portman’s book.

I raise Portman not because he is the worst of the Trump apologists but because he should know better. He should at this time in his career have the confidence and independence to defend the Constitution, as he surely would if a Democrat were in the White House. We do not even have to speculate on that point. Portman voted to impeach President Bill Clinton for lying under oath about a matter entirely unrelated to the performance of his duties. This was what Portman said at the time:

After careful consideration, I have concluded that President Clinton has committed serious offenses that merit impeachment by the United States House of Representatives. Committing perjury, obstructing justice and abusing the power of the presidency violate the rule of law that all citizens — even the President — must obey. And, of course, these acts are fundamentally inconsistent with the oath the President — as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer — took to “faithfully execute” the laws of the United States. I am particularly troubled by the clear evidence of lying under oath, in that truth is the bedrock of our judicial system.
I am also concerned because the President — by the very nature of his office — has a special responsibility to set an example. At a minimum, there cannot be one standard for the President and another for the citizens he serves. This past summer, I called on President Clinton to resign. I did so because I believed it was the right thing to do for the country in order to maintain the honor and dignity of the Office of the Presidency and to spare the country from going through a long, divisive and distracting impeachment process.

Now with a Republican in the White House, none of that concern for setting an example or for faithfully executing the laws applies. Portman no longer feels obligated to defend the Constitution against what in any reasonable analysis are far worse offenses than those Clinton committed. Indeed he wants to sign up for four more years of corruption, lawlessness and betrayal of American democracy.

The Republican Party deserves a resounding defeat in 2020. A party that turns a blind eye to Trump’s egregious wrongdoing cannot be entrusted with power. The lawless, xenophobic, racist know-nothingism that has gripped the party and deformed our government must be ousted. That includes repudiating the go-alongers, the Portmans, who have normalized Trump and failed to uphold their oaths. Portman allows Trump to defile the Constitution. And for that, he should be denounced and voted out of office in 2022.

Read more:

Gary Abernathy: Why a Never-Trump senator returned to the fold

The Post’s View: Trump is betraying his oath of office. If Republicans don’t step up, they will be, too.

Jennifer Rubin: Trump should be very worried about Senate Republicans