President Donald Trump's abuse of power, corruption and disdain for constitutional values has been evident since he first took office. And his behavior gets worse by the day as he proudly boasts that he can’t be criminally charged while in office.
While the spotlight rightly is on Trump and his shocking phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky—as well as the administration’s attempt to block the full disclosure of a whistleblower complaint from Congress, to the detriment of national security—the spotlight also should be trained on Republicans and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
After all, with a few exceptions (Sen. Mitt Romney, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake) it's their silence in the face of Trump's blatant misdeeds and ethical violations that has emboldened the president to behave as though he is accountable to no one. The GOP is complicit. The party's silence makes it partly responsible for the fact that at the helm of the country is a corrupt and craven want-to-be autocrat who tramples the Constitution on a regular basis.
This is the same party that came apart at the seams over the face that President Barack Obama held a coffee cup in his hand while saluting U.S. Marines as he exited Marine One.
With the latest revelations that Trump urged Ukraine to conduct an investigation into a political opponent and his family and before that likely threatened to withhold hundreds of millions in aid unless Ukraine capitulated to his demand, our nation has reached a tipping point. Trump has evidenced a contempt for constitutional norms so severe that the U.S. House of Representatives had no choice but to move to an official impeachment inquiry.
Assuming the House follows the preponderance of evidence and votes to impeach, the action will move to the Senate. What will the Republican-led Senate do?
Any responsible lawmaker would put country over party and realize that our democratic institutions are being strained to the breaking point. They would stop the presidential wrecking ball from destroying our democratic system.
Yet McConnell's first public reaction to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's impeachment announcement was to echo Trump's "witch hunt" cry by claiming this is just more of the same from the Democrats, who harbor an "impeachment obsession."
Other profiles in not-much courage include U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who dismissively said, "I think the Democrats have made this such a partisan exercise that I think most of the public has discounted the idea of it," and Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the impeachment process and said the public will consider the impeachment inquiry just "more harassment."
Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin called Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)—who refused to comment—profile "in queasiness."
Before we sigh and shake our heads at how Trump may yet again get a free pass, let's note that there may be evidence of cracks in the wall the GOP has erected to deflect criticism from Trump.
Rubin also noted that Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) called it "inappropriate" for a president to seek foreign assistance, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he would be "disappointed" if the allegations were true. That may not seem strong, but coming from a Trump acolyte like Graham, it is. And Romney is the strongest GOP voice, saying, "[C]learly what we've seen from the transcript itself is deeply troubling."
There even are glimmers of bipartisanship. The U.S. Senate on Tuesday unanimously called for the whistleblower complaint about Trump's call to the Ukrainian president to be released to the Senate Intelligence Committees.
Let's hope that signals that finally, Trump has done something that even the GOP can't excuse and ignore. After all our nation was built on a system of checks and balances, and the Senate has been AWOL in the checks department. It needs to step up. Our nation deserves no less.
Lisa Gilbert is the director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division.