Via E.J. Dionne Jr. for WaPo
The news is being reported on split screen as if the one big story in Washington is disconnected from the other. But President Trump’s lawless threats against Attorney General Jeff Sessions have a lot in common with the Senate’s reckless approach to the health coverage of tens of millions of Americans.
On both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, we are witnessing a collapse of the norms of governing, constant violations of our legitimate expectations of political leaders, and the mutation of the normal conflicts of democracy into a form of warfare that demands the opposition’s unconditional surrender.
Trump’s latest perverse miracle is that he has progressives — along with everyone else who cares about the rule of law — rooting for Sessions. The attorney general is as wrong as ever on voter suppression, civil rights enforcement and immigration. But Sessions did one very important thing: He obeyed the law.
When it was clear that he would have obvious conflicts of interest in the investigation of Russian meddling in our election and its possible links to the Trump campaign, Sessions recused himself, as he was required to do.
Trump’s attacks on Sessions for that recusal are thus a naked admission that he wants the nation’s top lawyer to act illegally if that’s what it takes to protect the president and his family. Equally inappropriate are Trump’s diktats from the Oval Office calling on Sessions to investigate Hillary Clinton and those terrible “leakers” who are more properly seen as whistleblowers against Trump’s abuses.
Our country is now as close to crossing the line from democracy to autocracy as it has been in our lifetimes. Trump’s ignorant, self-involved contempt for his duty under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” ought to inspire patriots of every ideological disposition to a robust and fearless defiance.
But where are the leaders of the Republican Party in the face of the dangers Trump poses? They’re trying to sneak through a health-care bill by violating every reasonable standard citizens should impose on public servants dealing with legislation that affects more than one-sixth of our economy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan have little time for worrying about the Constitution because they are busy doing Trump’s bidding on health care.
Let it be said that two Republican senators will forever deserve our gratitude for insisting that a complicated health-care law should be approached the way Obamacare — yes, Obamacare — was enacted: through lengthy hearings, robust debate and real input from the opposition party. In voting upfront to try to stop the process, Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski demonstrated a moral and political toughness that eluded other GOP colleagues who had expressed doubts about this charade but fell into line behind their leaders.
And when it comes to the ongoing indifference to the law in the White House, Republicans can no longer dodge their responsibility to speak out against what Trump is doing.
They should also examine their own behavior. The decline of our small-r republican institutions can be stopped only if the party brandishing that adjective starts living up to the obligations its name honors.