Some Republicans gently chided Trump for his shameful press conference with Putin — but none of them are doing anything to stop him.
Americans are hearing a lot about how Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake called Trump's performance "disgraceful" and "shameful," or how Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said Trump made the U.S. look like a "pushover," or how Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NV) called Trump's remarks "bizarre and flat-out wrong."
You might think that finally — finally — Trump's hideous, public betrayal of America would be enough to make the Republican Party turn a corner and realize that it has to stop making excuses and covering for his behavior.
It would be nice if this were true. It's not.
First of all, even the most passionately worded critiques of Trump from Republicans so far — yes, even McCain's fiery, on-point decrial of Trump's "conscious choice to defend a tyrant" — have fallen embarrassingly short.
That's because even strong words are just words. Trump's harshest "critics" in the GOP are still failing to demand any concrete action whatsoever to keep Trump in check.
The best McCain can do is express his "hope" that Americans "are not waiting totally in vain" for Trump to fulfill his responsibilities as president.
The best Flake can do is tell reporters that he's planning to introduce a strongly worded, non-binding Senate resolution to counter Trump's pro-Russia rhetoric — but that wouldn't force Trump to do anything he doesn't want to do, and appears to fall short of an official Senate censure against Trump.
And even that weak measure will probably still fail to gain GOP support because it dares to defend special counsel Robert Mueller.
Politico's Jake Sherman reports that congressional Republicans are throwing up their hands in interviews with him. Most of their comments, he says, boil down to "What the hell do you want us to do?"
Brian Beutler, editor in chief of Crooked Media, promptly tweeted a list of suggestions for what the hell Republicans can do: force Trump to disclose his tax returns, subpoena his business records, pass a bill that actively protects Robert Mueller, impeach and remove Trump for his high crimes and misdemeanors, and more.
1. Compel disclosure of Trump's tax returns.
2. Pass Mueller protection bill.
3. Remove Devin Nunes from HPSCI.
4. Pass censure resolution.
5. Subpoena his business records unless he liquidates his assets.
6. Impeach and remove. https://t.co/1vvclncBbB
— Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler) July 17, 2018
GOP elected leaders have other options, too.
They could take a cue from Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican governor of New Jersey, who has called on Trump to step down.
Or they could even follow in the footsteps of Jim Jeffords, who single-handedly flipped the Senate when he left the Republican Party to become an independent out of disgust for what the party had become. Flake in particular would have little to lose by doing this, since he's retiring — but he won't.
Meanwhile, most other elected Republicans are perfectly happy to do even less than Flake and McCain — and some have actively defended Trump's shameless fawning over a dictator who oversaw a direct attack on U.S. democracy.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) gave what appeared to be a truly bizarre defense of Trump — that he's a better liar than Putin.
"If Mr. Putin thinks he can tell a whopper, he's not gonna be outdone by this president," Rounds told Washington Post reporter Erica Werner.
Vice President Mike Pence gave a much tamer, but still bizarrely out of touch with reality, response: "What the world saw, what the American people saw, is that President Donald Trump will always put the prosperity and security of America first."
Other prominent Trump defenders include high-profile senators like Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), as well as Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and John Barrasso (R-WY), all of whom told Politico that they think Trump's efforts to make nice with Russia deserve a chance. (Johnson, by the way, was one of the eight Republican lawmakers who spent America's Independence Day in Moscow this year.)
An embarrassing number of Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other prominent senators like Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), have made statements that affirm U.S. intelligence on Russian election hacking — but have refused to criticize Trump directly or even mention his name.
"I've said a number of times and I say it again, the Russians are not our friends and I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community," McConnell said — before refusing to answer a reporter's question about whether he would tell Trump that he disagreed with him.
Other prominent congressional Republicans have rebuked Trump only in pathetically weak terms.
"The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally," Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said. (It doesn't matter whether he must; the problem is that he obviously doesn't.)
Maine Sen. Susan Collins' mild critique of Trump was that it's "certainly not helpful for the President to express doubt about the conclusions of his own team."
Are Republicans willing to criticize Putin? Sure, for the most part. Are they willing to support the U.S. intelligence community? Sort of, for once — only after Republicans have spent months smearing the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
But are they willing to defy Trump in any meaningful way? Not even close.
The U.S. has only two major political parties, not to mention a winner-take-all election system that often keeps third or fourth parties from winning seats in government.
One of those two parties is completely unwilling to do anything to keep an obviously unhinged president with autocratic fantasies from selling out the U.S. to a hostile foreign power.
This is nothing short of a crisis for American democracy.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.