The sense that this nation’s institutions and standards may withstand the most unusual presidency in its history strengthened a bit last week, with the news of two important congressional actions.
In the House, Democrats and nearly all Republicans voted Thursday for a resolution to have Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report sent to Congress upon completion, with as much of it made public as is possible. Four Republicans voted “present,” and no one voted against the measure.
“I rise in support of this resolution because I want the whole truth and nothing but the truth to come to light in this matter,” Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, said on the House floor before the vote. “Full transparency is the only way to prevent future speculation.”
Hurd is right, and it was commendable to see more Republicans striking a blow for transparency and the integrity of the body in which they serve over fealty to the president. It is shameful that in the Senate, Sen. Lindsey Graham managed to block such a resolution from passing. Trump-appointed Attorney General William Barr is required only to send a summary of the report to Congress, and has considerable flexibility on releasing all or parts of the report itself.
That same day, in a remarkable rebuke to President Donald Trump, the Senate voted to overturn his national emergency order regarding his border wall. A dozen Republicans broke with their party, citing concerns regarding constitutionality and the precedent such a broad order might set — both valid. “We’re saying today, ‘No, we do not acquiesce to this,’” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “We do not agree that the president should be able to come in and go against the express intention of the Congress when it comes to these appropriated funds” for his wall.
The emergency was always a sham, made obvious by Trump himself. Shortly after issuing the order, he declared “I could have done the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this.” More Republicans should be concerned about allowing a president to dip his hand directly into the national treasury. The power to appropriate funds is Congress’ chief role. The degree to which they cede that further neuters a body that was designed to be a check on executive overreach. Because the House has already voted on overturning the emergency order, the measure now heads to Trump’s desk.
Congress sent a message to the president. Even after weeks of bullying, threats and even pleas to stand with him, at least some Republicans appeared to reach their breaking point. They have not been eager to defy this president’s wishes, given the fervor of his base. But they also know they may well be the fail-safe for a nation whose institutions and principles are being tested by an increasingly authoritarian leader.
True to form, Trump is not taking this defiance well. On Friday, he vetoed the attempt to block his emergency order. But more disturbingly, he is issuing more threats, this time hinting at a backlash among his followers. “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,” he said in a recent interview.
We have said this before, but this kind of intimidation must stop. It normalizes a brutal kind of discourse that is fundamentally at odds with democracy. It is up to Congress to remind this president in the strongest possible terms that they are equal partners, not underlings. Those who continue to put party over country will find themselves out of step with an increasingly frustrated public.