What Happens Next Is Up to Republicans

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, shakes hands with House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, prior to speaking at the Republican congressional retreat in Philadelphia.

Matt Rourke/AP

AA Font size + Print

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, shakes hands with House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, prior to speaking at the Republican congressional retreat in Philadelphia.

It’s up to them whether a truly independent investigation occurs.

The immediate question raised by the latest information published by The New York Times is: What next? Will Congress investigate? Will it subpoena records, including the tax records that may clarify the financial obligations—if any—Donald Trump has to Russia? And since Congress is so dominated by one party, that first question raises a follow-up and more specific question: What will the leaders of the Republican Party in Congress do?

In the first shock of the news about the Trump team’s communications with Russian spies, Republican leaders are expressing revulsion and resolve. They expressed similar emotions after the shock of the “grab them by the pussy” recording. Then they collapsed.

Remember, the Republican rank-and-file remain much more intensely committed to Trump and the presidency than to their leaders in Congress. Fox News and talk radio are busily concocting rationalizations and distractions. Donald Trump will still be president a week from now—and he has many tools by which to retaliate against his perceived opponents in the intelligence services. Unless Congress revolts against him, he could well prevail, destroying the integrity and independence of law enforcement and counter-intelligence in the process.

The warnings of January still hold in February: Nothing will happen automatically. There are no mechanisms, only people. The people in the spotlight right now are the Republican members of Congress.

It’s up to them whether a truly independent investigation occurs.

It’s up to them whether Americans receive an accurate statement of Trump’s financial ties and obligations to Russian entities.

It’s up to them whether the CIA and FBI are protected from the purge that those around Trump are already hinting he may be planning for his own self-preservation.

Will they this time act in the honorable way?

Here’s something to consider. Trump has never shown much enthusiasm for the congressional agenda of reforming Obamacare and reducing taxes. He has developed no plans, and his White House staff is not structured in a way likely to produce such plans anytime soon.

Without presidential leadership—and with the visible and traditional disagreements between House members who mostly hold safe seats, and senators vulnerable to state-wide electorates—it’s  hard to see how anything gets done in the next session. Congressional Republicans are now at risk of wasting this rare chance, risking an all-Republican government accomplishing nothing beside Trump’s self-aggrandizement and corrosion of constitutional government. That will suit Donald Trump fine. It can hardly suit Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell.

Suppose Mike Pence were president now. Tax-reform legislation would be hitting the floor of the House. A competent White House staff, headed by people with intact reputations for honesty, would be hammering out the compromises necessary to repeal healthcare reform. A functional National Security Council would be generating options for responding to Russia’s cheating on arms-control treaties and aggression in Ukraine. Democrats and liberals would be assailing congressional Republicans on immigration and abortion—not espionage and treason. Instead, their hopes, their interests, their constituencies, and possibly their careers are all at risk, subordinated to the personal imperatives of a president who does not share their principles and does not care about their party.

Each member of Congress went into this line of work with some idea of serving their country. They do not yet know whether clandestine cooperation occurred between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. They do not know whether that clandestine cooperation continues now. Possibly Trump imagines that he is using Putin, rather than being used by him.

But what they do know is that Trump is doing damage to U.S. alliances and the U.S.-led global economic order. They know that he’s staffed his White House with disturbing personalities who do not seem to recognize or accept ordinary ethical norms. They hear from business leaders, foreign heads of government, and their own contacts in the defense and intelligence agencies that they are alarmed and frightened. They see the president of the United States behaving in ways no president should behave. They are partisan creatures, as they have to be in their line of work, but they have enough experience to appreciate that concerns don’t cease being valid just because they are raised by their Democratic colleagues. They must feel that their restraint on the president and the White House is the most important constitutional line of defense against presidential corruption—or worse. If they don’t act decisively now, when will they act? If this isn’t bad enough—what will be?

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.