During debates regarding how congressional Republicans who disagree with President Trump should constrain him, many who oppose Trump act as though anything short of refusing to vote for conservative legislation — effectively voting as a Democrat — is tantamount to full support of Trump. However, there are several measures Republicans — from the national GOP to elected politicians — could do, from making meaningful, symbolic statements to taking real action.
The Republican National Committee could implement a rule that requires anyone who wishes to run for the party’s nomination for president to release his or her tax returns or otherwise be blocked from the party label, party resources, and debate stages.
Republicans in Congress could pass a resolution proclaiming their belief in, and support for, the American intelligence community with regard to its findings on Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 election. Though the resolution would not be binding, it would at least make a powerful statement and present a unified front.
Congress can take up legislation stripping the White House of powers it has grabbed over recent decades to begin returning them to the legislative branch, as originally intended by the Framers. They could start by limiting the president’s ability to unilaterally enact tariffs, so as to prevent trade wars that will ultimately hurt the American people and economy.
Congress could ignore the president’s threat to veto legislation and either craft legislation that has the necessary support to become law without the president’s signature or call the president’s bluff: Put the legislation in front of him and force him to openly veto it — or to give in. Republicans repeatedly voted on Obamacare repeal bills despite knowing President Obama would almost certainly veto them; why should immigration or trade legislation be handled any differently?
Congress could pass a bill to implement penalties if Trump interferes with Mueller’s investigation.
The Republican majority is so narrow that Republicans in the Senate could block votes until they obtain concessions from the Trump administration.
Lastly, Congress could formally censure the president, which would put Congress on the record as officially rebuking President Trump.
The idea of censure has been gaining support among conservatives; yesterday Republican strategist Evan Siegfried suggested the idea at NBC News, while a Weekly Standard editorial yesterday supported the idea in response to Monday’s Trump-Putin press conference.
Siegfried’s reasoning behind supporting a censure is more broadly based than just Monday’s press conference, though he does write that “the message that Trump sent to the American intelligence community was that he trusts Putin, a former KGB operative who has been hell-bent on destabilizing the United States and its NATO allies, over the Americans who put their lives on the line every single day in order to keep our country safe.”
Our allies are being pushed away and left shaken, while our enemies are being emboldened by a president who refuses to stand up for America and see it as the beacon of hope and freedom that oppressed people throughout the world know it to be. The Republican-held Congress can and should act forcefully by showing Trump that his actions are unacceptable.
The Weekly Standard referred to the Trump-Putin press conference as a “punishable disgrace.”
When asked what, if anything, Trumps holds Russia accountable for, the president did not name one issue for which he holds Russia alone accountable. He did not mention the many people assassinated by the Russian government, both in Russia and in Western countries. He did not mention Russia’s invasions of other countries. He did not even mention the humanitarian crisis occurring in Syria under Syrian president, and Putin ally, Bashar al-Assad.
Instead, he said, “I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago — a long time, frankly, before I got to office. And I think we’re all to blame.”
He then chose to take the word of Putin over his own Director of National Intelligence — who he appointed — and multiple American intelligence agencies (all of whom have confirmed their belief in Russian interference before the Senate Intelligence Committee):
My people came to me — [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others — they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. … So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.
Dan Coats served as a Republican member of Congress for more than two decades; before that, he served his country in the United States Army. He has an 89.5 lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. And, again, he was Trump’s nominee to serve as the Director of National Intelligence. The determination of American intelligence under his leadership that Russia interfered is not an empty witch hunt led by Democrats.
Nor is Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Mueller is a Marine, a lifetime Republican, and a former Bush appointee. His investigation has so far led to five guilty pleas; the indictments of 13 Russian nationals, three Russian companies, and 12 Russian intelligence officers; and the recent arrest of a Russian national residing in D.C. and allegedly working as a foreign agent.
Though the administration’s actions regarding Russia have been tough — expanded sanctions, closing a Russian consulate, expelling dozens of Russian officials from the U.S., and approving U.S. arms sales to Ukraine — Trump repeatedly undermines these efforts, and the president’s words carry significant weight. This is evident in the way he has influenced how the Republican Party views Putin, who murders journalists and political opponents, even in Western countries; props up Assad; invaded Crimea and Georgia; supplied a missile used to shoot down a passenger plane; and actively seeks to undermine America’s national interests.
The Weekly Standard writes that although a censure has “no concrete consequences,” it would still be a “powerful statement”:
We understand that such a measure would be largely symbolic. But symbols matter. It would be no small thing for congressional Republicans to declare, in a formal manner, that a president who coddles and defends an anti-American despot doesn’t deserve their support.
These suggestions aren’t necessarily perfect; for example, it is more than possible that a censure may have no impact — Trump so far has been seemingly unbothered by norms and traditions.
But it is evident there are more alternatives for Republicans who disagree with Trump on any number of issues than simply voting in lockstep with Democrats. Republicans can pass conservative legislation and limit the power of the executive office at the same time.
Trump was forced to publicly reverse course yesterday (mostly), which shows it is possible to force him to publicly behave a certain way (at least temporarily — he may later double-down on his original comments). Republicans in Congress need to use their constitutional power to limit the president’s ability to unilaterally cause damage, as they would have were it President Hillary Clinton. Congress has oversight powers for a reason. It’s time they use them.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.