Sohn: Is GOP awakening to Trump, or reading tea leaves?

Sohn: Is GOP awakening to Trump, or reading tea leaves?

March 16th, 2019 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

President Donald Trump listens during a briefing on drug trafficking at the southern border in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Washington. Trump said during the event the U.S. is issuing an emergency order grounding all Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft "effective immediately," in the wake of the crash of an Ethiopian Airliner that killed 157 people. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

It's about time. Actually, it's long past time that Republicans began to make it clear to President Donald Trump and about a third of their party voters that America does not have — and will not have — a king.

This week, finally, Republicans stepped up.

Like overindulgent parents, lawmakers told Trump over and over not to push his luck with them. Specifically, they told him that when he stood by Saudi Arabia and its crown prince after the brutal killing and dismemberment of a Washington Post columnist, when he tried repeatedly to intervene or circumvent special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and when he declared a national emergency to pay for his border wall.

But like the spoiled child that he is, Trump defiantly blew past the warnings.

On Wednesday, seven Republicans voted with the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to end American military aid to Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen. It was a protest over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist.

Then on Thursday morning, in a real statement of courage and rebuke, the House voted unanimously — 420-0 — on a nonbinding resolution to make public the findings of special counsel Mueller. Trump toady Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, blocked a similar measure in the Senate.

But later on Thursday in the Senate chamber, 12 Republican senators, including Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, figuratively slapped the president to pass legislation 59-41 to block Trump's declaration of a national emergency to build his border wall — a measure that already had been adopted by the House. Trump vetoed the bill on Friday.

Alexander said he supports the president on border security, but not on the emergency declaration — especially not when the president already has $5.7 billion available to build 234 miles of wall.

"Never before has a president asked for funding, Congress has not provided it, and the president then has used the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to spend the money anyway," Alexander said in a statement. "The problem with this is that after a Revolutionary War against a king, our nation's founders gave to Congress the power to approve all spending so that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a crucial source of our freedom. This declaration is a dangerous precedent."

Alexander, in both Facebook video and Twitter messages, offered some partisan scare examples: What if a Democratic president declares emergencies to tear down the existing border wall, take away guns, stop oil exports, shut down offshore drilling, build windmills "and other left-wing enterprises — all without the approval of Congress."

Never mind any future war on wind mills. Alexander should have stopped courting his party's wing-nut faction while he was ahead as a thinking, thoughtful, conservative lawmaker.

Nonetheless, those Republicans who joined Alexander (Roy Blunt of Missouri, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mit Romney of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Roger Wicker of Mississippi) and others need to stay the course.

Promising and signing a veto wasn't all the president did this week. He told Brietbart (and later tweeted): "I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people, but they don't play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad." (After the massacre at mosques in New Zealand, someone had the wisdom to delete the tweet.)

Those seem more like the words of a dictator than a president. Even Republicans fearing primary challenges should take seriously such threats from a president who proves repeatedly that he has neither knowledge of nor respect for our Constitution.

Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Bernstein posited Friday that Republicans have learned to be more afraid of primary challenges and threats of withheld party resources for "disloyalty" than they are of swing voters in their districts.

Bernstein questioned the wisdom of the most vulnerable Republican senators in 2020 — Arizona's Martha McSally, Colorado's Cory Gardner and North Carolina's Thom Tillis — all of whom sided with Trump in the Yemen and national emergency votes.

"One of the reasons that so many incumbents win re-election is that they normally work hard to represent their districts. And McSally, Gardner and Tillis are choosing a risky path by catering to the conservative side of a very conservative party in states that elect people from both parties," Bernstein wrote.

Clearly, the GOPers in Congress have been in thrall to a tyrant. Come March 26, the date tentatively scheduled for an override vote, we'll see if Republicans can really grow backbones and put the country first. It will be a steep climb.

But it's worthwhile to remember that Republicans in Congress can read polls. They can see that public opinion is turning against Trump and that's highly unlikely to change between now and the election next year.

"The Senate's waking up a little bit to our responsibilities," said Alexander, who is retiring in 2020.

Either that or they're reading the tea leaves. Either way, let's hope Alexander is correct.

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