The one group that can rein in Trump? His own party


Congress is on a one-week recess. These breaks are intended to allow members of the House and Senate to return home and listen to the voices of those they represent, and this year, they are going to get an earful. All 535 members of Congress are likely to face constituents fired up about our new President, one way or the other.

Under the Constitution, outside of the courts, only Congress has the power to check the President. In theory, the Attorney General could investigate the President, or appoint a special prosecutor to do so. The Attorney General, however, works for the President.

But Congress is independent, and Congress can investigate. Congress can pass laws to limit authority. And ultimately Congress can, if it comes to that, impeach.

There’s just one problem, as Ezra Klein points out in an outstanding article in Vox:

The framers’ mistaken belief that America’s political system would resist organized parties was consequential. Their vision of American government — vision children are still taught in civics classes — was that it would be balanced by competition among branches. The president, the courts, and the Congress would compete for power and prestige. They would check each other naturally, as a byproduct of exerting and protecting their authority.

The reality of American government today is quite different. American politics is balanced by organized political parties competing across branches of government. The president is checked not by Congress, but by the opposition party in Congress.

And right now, the opposition party, the Democrats, are in the minority, so there’s not much they can do. That means it is up to Republicans to rein in Donald Trump.

Washington’s four Republican members of Congress — Reps. Jamie Herrera-Beutler, Dan Newhouse, Cathy McMorris-Rogers and Dave Reichert — should be leading the effort.

Donald Trump is advancing polices contrary to those supported by most Republicans, as I’ve written before. And Trump’s core policies on foreign policy, trade, immigration and budgets, run directly counter to the interests of Washington state.

Breaking with your party on major issues is incredibly difficult. You will lose friends. You may lose your career.

I know this as well. I was a member of the Republican leadership in the Washington State House of Representatives. For five years, I was the chairman of the Washington State Republican Party. As a candidate for the U.S. Senate, I opposed Trump during the 2016 election, and I paid the price.

These, however, are extraordinary times.

Here, specifically are the things congressional Republicans need to do:

First and foremost they must launch a truly independent, bipartisan investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia, Russia’s attack on our elections, and the level of influence Russia may have in the administration. Some Republicans, most notably Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are already calling for that type of investigation.

Given Trump’s deep financial ties to Russian “investors,” and his ongoing overseas business arrangements, this investigation must involve the release of Donald Trump’s taxes. This type of disclosure is required of every other public employee in America; it is outrageous that Congress allows the President to keep his personal finances hidden given what we already know. And yes, Congress has the authority to compel the President to release his taxes.

In addition, Congress must perform its most basic function and pass legislation to prevent President Trump from enacting policies that most Republicans oppose and which would do great harm. Here’s a list:

  • Pass a bill, already proposed by McCain and Graham, to codify the current sanctions against Russia so Trump cannot lift them without a vote of Congress.
  • Pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform that includes greater border security, but also a path to legality for those already here, visa reforms, a guest worker plan, and new common-sense regulations on admitting refugees or immigrants who might be a security threat.
  • Pass a bipartisan budget resolution that uses the Simpson-Bowles framework to reform entitlement programs and bring down our debt, rather than adopt Trump’s policies which would add roughly $5 trillion to the national debt.
  • Make it clear to the White House that they will not allow the North American Free Trade Agreement, or our other trade agreements, to be torn up, and will not support new job-killing tariffs or a trade war.

Our four Republicans from Washington state have supported all these policies in the past, and I believe they are all deeply concerned about Russian fascism. But enacting this agenda will take courage, and it will take a willingness to put partisanship aside and work with their Democratic colleagues.

If the Republican Congress does these things, Donald Trump will go on a Twitter rampage. Talk radio will rail against them. Much of the Republican base will explode. So be it. Country must come before party.

Serving in public office sometimes requires courage. A young John Kennedy wrote a book about this before he became President. Where will the profiles in courage come from today?


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About the Authors & Contributors

Chris Vance

Chris Vance

Chris Vance, a former Republican party chairman, is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center.