Blog No. 157. Congressional Republicans: In Search of a Brain, a Heart and Courage

Collectively, Congressional Republicans resemble nothing so much as a composite character from the Wizard of Oz. In that tale, it will be recalled, the  Scarecrow wants a brain, the Tin Woodman wants a heart, and the Cowardly Lion wants courage. Too often, Republicans in the House and Senate appear to be lacking in all three departments. For example, the lack of a brain and the lack of a heart were both displayed in the clumsy attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare. Though there is abundant evidence that the Affordable Care Act was poorly designed and administered, Republicans managed the remarkable feat of proposing alternatives that would have been even worse. But the most conspicuous deficiency of Congressional Republicans may be in the last category—an absence of courage to stand up to President Trump.

There is, for a start, his personal conduct, epitomized by his incessant whining about “Fake News,” which is Trump’s term for any account in the media that he finds critical of him or his administration. The media, to be sure, makes mistakes from time to time and anonymous sources are not always reliable. On the whole, however, any errors or distortions in the media pale in comparison to Trump’s relentless disregard for fact and reality. Readers who entertain any doubts on that score might consult the Fact Checker in the Washington Post who reported on October 10 that “President Trump has made 1,318  false or misleading claims over a period of 263 days.”

Other matters on which Congressional Republicans have turned a blind eye were recently enumerated by the indispensable Jennifer Rubin, the conservative blogger of the Washington Post:

Elected Republicans will eventually be judged, not so much for what they have believed, but for what many have tolerated. They have tolerated Trump’s irritable narcissism and rule by ridicule. They have tolerated nepotism, incompetence and malice on a grand scale. They have tolerated Trump’s unique brand of disaster management — divisive, self-serving, conspiratorial (in attributing Puerto Rico’s desperate pleas for help to a Democratic plot) and more concerned with discrediting critics than demonstrating competence. And they have tolerated a string of presidential reactions — including to the Charlottesville protests and murder and to the sincere sideline activism led by African American athletes — that amount to a racially charged pattern.

In terms of policy, the Congressional lack of courage is nowhere more alarming than in Trump’s conduct of foreign affairs generally and with respect to North Korea in particular.  The point was painfully apparent in a recent New York Times interview with Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. According to the Times, Corker said that “Trump was treating his office like ‘a reality show,’ with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation ‘on the path to World War III.’ Corker told the Times that he was alarmed about a president who acts ‘like he’s doing The Apprentice or something. He concerns me. He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.’”

Most significantly, Corker indicated that his view of Trump was widely shared on Capitol Hill:

All but inviting his colleagues to join him in speaking out about the president, Mr. Corker said his concerns about Mr. Trump were shared by nearly every Senate Republican.

“Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” he said, adding that “of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

After the report of the interview, none of Corker’s colleagues rose to endorse his comments, but no one rose to challenge or rebut them either. Trump quite characteristically lashed out against Corker in a series of tweets and drew a tart reproach from the Wall Street Journal. The Journal is generally captivated by the heady aroma of anticipated tax cuts (styled as “pro-growth tax reform”) and struggles to find positive things about Trump whenever it can. Here, however, it acknowledged with unusual candor that Corker had a point, and a serious one at that:

Mr. Corker was expressing views that are widely held on Capitol Hill and even within the Trump Administration. These men and women support the President’s policies, or at least most of them, and they remain in their jobs for the good of the cause and country. What they fear, and want to contain, are the President’s lack of discipline, short fuse, narcissism and habit of treating even foreign heads of state as if they are Rosie O’Donnell.

Some observers, including James Fallows in the Atlantic, asked what Corker would do to translate his concerns into action. Fallows suggested hearings and draft legislation “about the procedure, the grounds, and the justifications before the U.S. commits troops to war.” He did not, however, refer to legislation that was introduced in the House and the Senate by Congressman Ted Lieu and Senator Ed Markey in January. The bills are entitled “Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017,” and provide that:

The President may not use the Armed Forces of the United States to conduct a first-use nuclear strike unless such strike is conducted pursuant to a declaration of war by Congress that expressly authorizes such strike.

The Lieu bill in the House has 58 co-sponsors, including only one Republican, Walter Jones of North Carolina, and in the Senate, the Markey bill has 9 co-sponsors, all Democrats. No action has been taken on either bill and none is scheduled.

An October 11 editorial in the New York Times addressed the dangers of a nuclear strike and without mentioning the Markey/Lieu bills by name, asserted that “Congress has been sufficiently alarmed to consider legislation that would bar the president from launching a first nuclear strike without a declaration of war by Congress.”  It is an overstatement to indicate that the Markey/Lieu bills are under active consideration, but there is no reason why they should not be. As the Times accurately noted:

As things stand now, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, passed when there was more concern about trigger-happy generals than elected civilian leaders, gives the president sole control. He could unleash the apocalyptic force of the American nuclear arsenal by his word alone, and within minutes.

It is time for Senator Corker to step up and address the issue forthrightly and to bring his colleagues out of hiding. Perhaps he will play the role of Dorothy and lead them along the Yellow Brick Road to discover not Oz, but their Constitutional responsibilities.

6 thoughts on “Blog No. 157. Congressional Republicans: In Search of a Brain, a Heart and Courage

  • Trump is not a King and cannot tell Congress what it can or cannot do. But I am not aware of an open rebellion by any Congress against a president of the same party in our nation’s history.

    The Republican Party establishment, including the RNC, made a terrible mistake by helping Trump become president and now it is probably stuck with him, at least for one term.

    What next? The electorate is obviously uninformed and extremely gullible. Indeed, according to an Edison Research exit poll in the 2016 presidenial election, not only did majorities of women and rural voters vote for Trump: 18% of voters who felt he was unfit to be president voted for him anyway.

    So Republican Congressman are not ready for open rebellion and who can blame them? Both in view of the weak-minded electorate and a president who will stoop at nothing to win

    The key question is, “Who in the Republican Party will be able to knock Trump off of his high horse in the 2020 presidential primaries?” Ted Kennedy could not take the Democratic Party renomination away from Jimmy Carter in 1980, and Teddy Roosevelt could not take the Republican Party renomination away from William Howard Taft in 1912. Thomas Jefferson did stop John Adams in 1800.

    The iwise men and women in the Republican Party need to figure out who can overtake Trump. A uniter of course. But also someone who can win a street fight against Donald Trump without, however, acting anything like him. A tall order but hardly insurmountable since Trump has so many enemies and is extremely vulnerable.

  • Could it be that Mr. Trump was correct in stating that it did not start raining until he finished his Inaugural address? Otherwise, he might have melted there and then, while complaining — “Oh, look what they have done to my beautiful perversity!” [Feel free to chose your own fun descriptors.] It is truly discouraging that Congressional Republicans cannot acknowledge the threat that Trump presents on multiple fronts, begin to identify steps to restrain the most obvious dangers, and try to restore a modicum of civility in our public discourse. But, as we all know, we are far from the United States that we have known. Doug, as always, thank you.

  • The Wizard of Oz analogy sounds right on to me. When will Republicans in Congress begin to stand up for the principles they claim to hold, and put true patriotism, integrity, and the well-being of the entire nation ahead of short-term political and mindless party loyalty? Senator Corker does not seem to have exaggerated the severity of the situation the nation faces with Trump at the helm.

    • Bill, the party we grew up with is dead and has been for years. The only principle guiding it these days is to get re-elected. Bob Williams said he is a Goldwater Republican. Barry Goldwater was my first vote for president. It was a different party then, based on principle and civility. Ike couldn’t get re-elected today. The Republicans spent the entire Obama administration trying to undermine him with no thought to what impact it had on the good of the country. If the Democrats had done that to them, the Republicans would have called it treason.

      I too long for the party to return to its old principles, but that won’t happen until they hold the Stanley Cup playoffs outdoors in Savannah in July. Now let’s hope I am wrong.

  • Thank you for this blog. It clearly enumerates what I have been wanting to say for a long time. Mr. Trump rules by chaos and threats, not by reason and civility. Mr. Trump must win at any cost, no matter what the cost is to our country. I served in Viet Nam and no that war must not be the answer to the problems of North Korean and Iran. The middle class in this country is hurting and all this “Republican” congress can do is focus on the wealthy. I am a Barry Goldwater Republican. I am fiscally conservative and socially liberal.
    Thank you!

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