Congress doesn’t have op­tion to just shrug and look away

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY EU­GENE ROBIN­SON Washington Post Writ­ers Group

The es­ca­lat­ing war in Washington is not be­tween the White House and “Democrats,” de­spite what Pres­i­dent Trump may claim. It is be­tween an ar­ro­gant, out-of-con­trol ex­ec­u­tive and the peo­ple’s duly elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Congress, whose sworn du­ties tran­scend politics. There’s a big dif­fer­ence.

Trump tries to drag ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing down to the basest, most trans­ac­tional level, which is the only level he knows. In his telling, it’s “Democrats” who are de­mand­ing to see his tax re­turns, “Democrats” who want pub­lic tes­ti­mony by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller and for­mer White House coun­sel Don McGahn, “Democrats” who are hold­ing hear­ings and is­su­ing sub­poe­nas for the sole pur­pose of per­se­cut­ing Don­ald J. Trump.

The pres­i­dent cyn­i­cally tries to paint the whole thing as pure politics, as if it were all some kind of game. But it is not. An ad­ver­sar­ial for­eign power, Vladimir Putin’s Rus­sia, ma­li­ciously in­ter­fered with our pres­i­den­tial election in 2016. Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials and ad­vis­ers had scores of un­usual con­tacts with Krem­lin-con­nec­ted Rus­sians, then lied about those con­tacts. Trump tried re­peat­edly to thwart any in­ves­ti­ga­tion of those con­tacts and lies, en­gag­ing in con­duct that many le­gal ex­perts be­lieve amounts to ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

None of this is nor­mal or ac­cept­able, and Congress does not have the op­tion to shrug and look away. Act­ing in the name of the na­tion, the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee has the statu­tory au­thor­ity – and good rea­son – to look at Trump’s tax re­turns. Act­ing in the name of the na­tion, the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee has the duty to read Mueller’s en­tire unredacted re­port and hear from Mueller and McGahn. Act­ing in the name of the na­tion, the House speaker must de­cide whether Trump’s con­duct was so egre­gious that im­peach­ment hear­ings should be held.

The fact that the House is presently con­trolled by the Demo­cratic Party in­stead of the Repub­li­can Party does not al­ter its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties – or mit­i­gate its pow­ers.

It is as­tound­ing that more Repub­li­cans have not dared speak a word, let alone take any ac­tion, to as­sert the au­thor­ity of Congress as a co­equal branch of gov­ern­ment in the face of a pres­i­den­tial power grab. Trump’s de­fi­ance of wholly le­git­i­mate re­quests for in­for­ma­tion and tes­ti­mony is the kind of thing that nor­mally would spark bi­par­ti­san fire and brim­stone. In­stead, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., obe­di­ently fol­lows Trump and de­clares: “Case closed.”

Do Repub­li­cans in Congress think it’s just fine for Putin to try to in­flu­ence our elec­tions as long as he fa­vors Repub­li­can can­di­dates? Or are they so fright­ened of Trump that they’re afraid to say any­thing?

The dere­lic­tion of Repub­li­cans, how­ever, does not ob­vi­ate the duty of mem­bers of Congress who hap­pen to be Democrats. I’m not naïve enough to think the House will pro­ceed with no re­gard what­so­ever for politics and the com­ing election. But I guess I’m ide­al­is­tic enough to be­lieve that most mem­bers of both cham­bers – and, I used to think, both par­ties – do take se­ri­ously the fact that they have been en­trusted to do the peo­ple’s busi­ness and de­fend the peo­ple’s democ­racy.

The framers of the Con­sti­tu­tion en­vi­sioned a Congress that would stand up to an over­reach­ing pres­i­dent. Trump is cheap­en­ing and de­fil­ing his of­fice. Mem­bers of Congress – not “Democrats” but rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple – must not fol­low suit.

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