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EDITORIAL: Trump, GOP enablers hit surprising new low
When will Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and his fellow Republicans in Congress ever find the spine to stand up their party’s leader?
Judging from the unprecedented, remarkable events this week, the answer is never.
Because if the sight of an American president siding with one of our foremost adversaries over his own Justice Department does not rile the GOP rank and file, it’s hard to imagine what would.
To recap: President Donald Trump, hot off the heels of his first visit to the United Kingdom, during which thousands protested in the streets and several members of the royal family declined to meet with him, attended a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, with Russian dicta—er, President Vladimir Putin.
The get-together, long sought by Trump, was billed as a summit. If so, it was the rarest of such conferences: one without a specific agenda.
After Trump spent two hours in private with Putin — an ill-advised adventure that was likely advised against by the administration officials the president takes such pride in ignoring — the two met the press.
The result was likened by Sen. John McCain — one of the few Republican lawmakers to forcefully call out Trump by name — as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” And the 81-year-old Arizona lawmaker has a long memory.
McCain is right. Trump’s performance was an outrage. Flanked by Putin, the president threw the U.S. intelligence community under the bus in refusing to assert — let alone defend — their unanimous findings that Russia was responsible for 2016 presidential elections meddling.
Given the opportunity to take Putin to task for what even the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee determined to be Russian interference, Trump meekly demurred.
“My people came to me,” Trump said during the news conference. “(Director of National Intelligence) Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.”
Astonishing. This a day after Trump blamed U.S. “foolishness and stupidity” for the poor relations between the two countries. And less than a week after his bomb-throwing performances at the NATO summit, in which he bullied allies to increase their military spending and charged Germany was being controlled by Russia owing to a gas-pipeline deal between the two nations.
As he coddles enemies and ostracizes allies, it is not unfair to ask, whose side is President Trump on? And why?
To be fair, a number of Republicans criticized Trump directly for the Helsinki debacle. Established critics such as Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina joined colleagues including Nebraska’s Sen. Ben Sasse in sharp rebukes, the latter calling Trump’s comments “flat-out wrong and bizarre.”
But too often the responses were timid, tepid or avoided Trump’s role altogether.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, for example, worried that, "The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.”
Not exactly strong words.
And Toomey issued a three-paragraph statement in which he offers a litany of Putin’s misdeeds (don’t tell your constituents, tell Trump; he’s the one who is evidently unaware of them) and urges the Russian government to help bring to justice 12 operatives indicted Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller (good luck with that!).
Toomey tweeted the statement out to his followers, citing "@potus' blindness to Putin's hostile acts . . ."
President Trump — unschooled and unschoolable, geopolitically naïve, self-centered and defensive — continues to subvert U.S. interests abroad. That is no longer surprising, although the extent to which he sides with foreign powers over his own government continues to be appalling. (And the extent to which he defers to Putin raises real questions as to motive.)
What is surprising is the length to which Republican lawmakers have gone to avoid head-on confrontation with an unpredictable, unreliable and unpatriotic president simply because he remains popular with core supporters.
Their continued sotto voce response to Trump’s bellowing betrayals of his duty, his oath of office and his country not only bring shame to the party and the nation, they embolden an already unrestrained president in his continued assaults on American values, interests and institutions.