For all the talk about President Donald Trump’s refusal to abide by conventional norms befitting the nation’s chief executive, he bears only partial responsibility for his almost daily desecration of the Oval Office.
Like a perpetually undisciplined child, the president’s defiance of rational political behavior is tolerated by the more judicious adults who toil, seemingly unperturbed, a mile down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
To be clear, I’m talking exclusively about Senate Republicans, who steadfastly refuse to hold Trump accountable for his manifold breaches of political decorum and defiance of democratic governance.
Just this week, in a glaring break with political norms, Trump barred White House aides from complying with congressional demands to appear on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are seeking more information about the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections and the president’s efforts to obstruct the probe.
No surprise here. Trump has made a habit of thumbing his nose at normal political convention, failing to offer statesman-like comments at moments of national tragedy, for example, and forbidding administration officials this week from attending the White House Correspondents Association dinner, a Washington ritual.
Other matters, like standing in opposition to a co-equal branch of government, however, could pose a potential threat to democracy, as well as setting a troubling legal precedent.
Indeed, the president’s recent actions add one more brick to a towering wall of evidence that shows Trump has little regard for the democratic rule of law. As the saying goes, nothing about this administration is normal — least of all Trump saying he opposes his aides speaking to Congress because the panels are headed by Democrats.
“There is no reason to go any further, and especially in Congress where it’s very partisan — obviously very partisan,” the president said during an interview with The Washington Post.
His actions have matched his rhetoric. Just this week, Treasury officials, at the president’s direction, refused a second demand from House Democrats to release the president’s tax returns.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena this week to compel testimony from former White House counsel Donald McGahn, but the administration is claiming executive privilege to avoid having him talk to the committee.
As if that were not enough, the White House ordered former personnel security director Carl Kline not to testify before the House Oversight Committee, which is looking into security clearance procedures at the White House. The move led the panel to hold Kline in contempt of Congress.
To be perfectly fair, Trump is only partially to blame for his recklessness, which is abetted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his corps of political enablers.
Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an expert on Congress, said in an interview with ThinkProgress that Trump would never get away with flouting political conventions, if the legislative branch fulfilled its responsibility keeping a check on the executive branch, as required by the Constitution.
“There is no doubt that the failure of Republicans in Congress to provide even a smidgen of check and balance — no pushback against moves to autocracy, no hearings on his rampant kleptocracy, no oversight of the corruption within his White House and across agencies, including nearly every Cabinet officer, no oversight of maladministration, including child separation and the response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico, confirmation of unqualified judges and executives who lied to the Senate — is both unprecedented in history and a critical factor in Trump’s ability to survive and even thrive,” Ornstein said.
“It is the most appalling breach of fundamental responsibility I have ever seen.”
Paul Krugman at The New York Times is even more brutally direct in his description of why McConnell and Senate Republicans are allowing Trump to behave as an enfant terrible with nuclear codes. Krugman writes:
…[T]he modern G.O.P. is perfectly willing to sell out America if that’s what it takes to get tax cuts for the wealthy. Republicans may not think of it in those terms, but that’s what their behavior amounts to.
The truth is that the G.O.P. faced its decisive test in 2016, when almost everyone in the Republican establishment lined up behind a man fully known to be a would-be authoritarian who was unfit morally, temperamentally and intellectually for high office.
Faced with Senate GOP obstruction to disciplining Trump, House Democrats have made lopsided efforts to restrain the president from wrecking the nation. Their efforts are not quite uniform, and quite frankly are dividing the party.
A growing number of House Democrats and several presidential primary contenders are calling for the president’s impeachment, convinced that the only way to save the Republic is to remove Trump. Others believe that the spectacle of impeachment hearings would only embolden the president’s supporters, and that it would never succeed anyway, given the feckless GOP-majority in the Senate.
So what to do?
No doubt the best strategy is for House Democrats to do their jobs and try best as they might to hold the president — and his enablers — accountable to the public.
If Trump is unrestrained from acting like an unruly child, somebody must step in as responsible adults. That duty falls constitutionally upon congressional Democrats and it matters little whether they get support from their colleagues across the aisle.
It is their constitutional duty. If that leads them toward impeachment hearings, so be it.