In recent years, Americans have gotten used to seeing partisans in Washington stick with their allies through thick and thin. Barack Obama got no Republican support for the Affordable Care Act. The GOP replacement bill passed the House recently with all 193 Democrats voting no. Truly bipartisan efforts on major issues are vanishingly rare.
In some ways, this development is perfectly reasonable, reflecting principled differences between two parties that uphold coherent political philosophies. Expecting Democrats to vote for bills built on Republican tenets is like expecting Mormons to go to Mass.
Yet there are times when the issues before Congress are not about competing ideologies. Instead, they are about upholding the nation’s bedrock values and preserving our system of government and law.
The controversy over the alleged connections between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, and the related uproar over the president’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, should transcend party loyalties. But let’s be realistic: The president is not likely to get any slack from Democrats. If there comes a time when the facts exonerate Trump, it’s hard to think of a prominent Democrat who will step up to say so.
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Republicans are in a different position. They owe a measure of loyalty to the man they nominated for president – and to their voters who chose him in the party’s 2016 primaries. But they also have a duty to hold him to the standards of conduct they would expect of any president.
Trump has clearly fallen short there. The abrupt firing of Comey, and the stream of conflicting explanations of it, showed his disdain for traditional norms as well as poor judgment. But whether he crossed any legal line in his handling of the FBI director is far from certain.
Many if not most Republicans will be determined to defend him against what they see as a hypocritical outcry from Democrats bent on derailing his presidency. So it will be up to a relatively small number of GOP members of Congress to serve as the champions of truth, no matter what.
Already some have made it clear they wouldn’t overlook incriminating evidence about Trump, should it surface. Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have endorsed an independent inquiry. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said he couldn’t find a plausible justification for the Comey firing. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said it contributes to a “crisis of public trust.” Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia have said they haven’t ruled out supporting an independent counsel to take over the investigation.
We think that would be a mistake, given what is known so far. There are already three probes well underway.
What is important is that the administration knows it can’t count on blind allegiance from its own party. During the Watergate scandal, it was responsible, conscientious, patriotic Republicans who proved pivotal in impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon – and in persuading him to resign the presidency.
Their real distinction was not that they were willing to turn against their own president. It was that they were prepared to do whatever the evidence and the nation’s fundamental ideals demanded, regardless of politics.
We trust there are enough Republicans in Congress with a similar resolve today. A great deal depends on them.