The Repub­li­cans push back

Con­gres­sional lead­ers be­gin to stand up to an out-of-con­trol pres­i­dent. Let’s hope we see more of that.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - EDITORIALS

FROM THE be­gin­ning, the Trump pres­i­dency posed a unique chal­lenge to the Amer­i­can sys­tem of govern­ment and, in­deed, to the po­lit­i­cal the­ory upon which it was built. By separat­ing the leg­isla­tive, ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­cial pow­ers among three co­or­di­nate branches and pro­vid­ing means for each branch to check or bal­ance the oth­ers, the framers of our Con­sti­tu­tion sought to pro­tect lib­erty from the var­i­ous men­aces posed by hu­man na­ture it­self. Am­bi­tion, reck­less­ness, greed, in­com­pe­tence and ex­ces­sive par­ti­san­ship — any or all of these might gain a foothold in one part of govern­ment, but as long as coun­ter­vail­ing forces ex­isted they could be pre­vented from ru­in­ing the whole thing.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s rise tests the Amer­i­can sys­tem be­cause he was elected on the strength of rad­i­cal protest against it — the claim that it’s all “rigged” — and be­cause his party dom­i­nated Congress as well as the White House. The er­ratic dis­rupter-in-chief came to power with a po­lit­i­cal es­cort of en­ablers. And so any hope that checks and bal­ances would work to con­strain Mr. Trump’s worst im­pulses hinged, in part, on the will­ing­ness of Repub­li­cans in Congress to act in de­fense of values higher than short-term po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage, or at least to in­ter­pret their short-term po­lit­i­cal in­ter­est as re­quir­ing them to counter Mr. Trump.

Last week brought the most en­cour­ag­ing signs yet that mem­bers of the GOP are in­deed will­ing to be­have as the framers would have had them do. Repub­li­cans in Congress voted with Democrats in over­whelm­ing, veto-proof, num­bers to pass a Rus­sia sanc­tions bill that con­strains Mr. Trump’s abil­ity to in­dulge his strange sym­pa­thy for Vladimir Putin’s despotic regime. And they pushed back against Mr. Trump’s in­creas­ingly ag­gres­sive and in­creas­ingly bizarre at­tacks on At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, which were im­plic­itly at­tacks on in­de­pen­dent coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III. Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Charles E. Grass­ley (R-Iowa) made it clear that his com­mit­tee would give the pres­i­dent no op­por­tu­nity to ap­point a re­place­ment to Mr. Ses­sions if he tried to fire him. Mean­while, Sen. Lind­sey O. Gra­ham (R-S.C.) an­nounced a joint ef­fort with Democrats to leg­is­late a bar to fir­ing Mr. Mueller, an even­tu­al­ity which, he said, would mark “the be­gin­ning of the end of the Trump pres­i­dency.”

To be sure, Mr. Gra­ham’s at­tempt to im­pose ju­di­cial re­view on a pres­i­dent’s fir­ing of a spe­cial coun­sel might fail in prac­tice, for any num­ber of tech­ni­cal le­gal and con­sti­tu­tional rea­sons. We ad­mire the spirit be­hind it, how­ever, just as we sup­port Repub­li­can ef­forts to rein in Mr. Trump’s worst in­stincts on Rus­sia pol­icy, as well as the ef­forts of the Repub­li­can-chaired Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate the Rus­sian nexus to the 2016 cam­paign. In the minds of many of Mr. Trump’s harsh­est crit­ics, es­pe­cially Democrats, any­thing short of im­peach­ment con­sti­tutes Repub­li­can sub­mis­sion to an un­fit and il­le­git­i­mate pres­i­dent. What GOP law­mak­ers’ first se­ri­ous steps to­ward check­ing and bal­anc­ing Mr. Trump showed last week, how­ever, is that there is a mid­dle ground, which mem­bers of his own party are no longer afraid to ex­plore.

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