There is really only one issue in American politics at this moment: Will we accelerate our way to the end of the Trump story, or will our government remain mired in scandal, misdirection and paralysis for many more months – or even years?
There is a large irony in the politics behind this question. The Democrats’ narrow interest lies in having President Donald Trump hang around as close to the 2018 midterm elections as possible. Yet they are urging steps that could get this resolved sooner rather than later. Republicans would likely be better off if Trump were pushed off the stage. Yet up to now, they have been dragging their feet.
The reports that Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to drop his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn may finally be concentrating Republican minds. House Speaker Paul Ryan signaled this not by what he said on Wednesday but by what he didn’t.
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Ryan has been embarrassingly eager to defend Trump, but he did not rush to his support this time. Instead, Ryan called for a “sober” and “dispassionate” response, warned against “rushing to judgment,” and insisted that “our job is to get the facts.”
When word got out (probably from Comey or his sympathizers) of what Trump had said to the FBI director about Flynn, Republicans were left with no choice but to pursue the matter further.
And the speaker only expressed his faith in Trump when prompted by a shouted question at the end of his news conference. He replied with a soft “I do” when asked if he had “full confidence” in the president.
Nothing could be worse than slow-walking the Trump inquiries. The evidence is already overwhelming that he is temperamentally and intellectually incapable of doing the job he holds. He is indifferent to acquiring the knowledge the presidency demands and apparently of the belief that he can improvise hour to hour. He will violate norms whenever it suits him and cross ethical lines whenever he feels like it.
He also lies a lot, and has been perfectly happy to burn the credibility of anyone who works for him. White House statements are about as believable as those issued regularly by the Kremlin.
And Trump’s friend Vladimir Putin could not resist interfering yet again in our politics. Putin offered to provide Congress with a record of our president’s meeting with top Russian diplomats to shed light on exactly what highly classified intelligence information Trump shared with them. Adding to the insult, the Russian leader spoke of a “political schizophrenia” taking hold in the United States that was “eliciting concern” in his country.
Perhaps Putin’s taunt will elicit increasing concern among Republicans that our nation cannot endure much more of this.
The surest sign that the bottom is falling out from under Trump was a Wall Street Journal editorial that declared flatly: “Presidencies can withstand only so much turbulence before they come apart.” The Journal warned that Trump was on the verge of betraying his supporters, “as his presidency sinks before his eyes.”
You get a sense that the authors of those words know the sinking has already begun. Any GOP leader losing the support of the semi-official organ of Republican conservatism should know that his partisans are headed to the exit ramps.
But how can we speed our nation’s escape from the catastrophe Trump has created? The Senate Intelligence Committee took an important step by announcing a bipartisan invitation to Comey to testify. The sooner he tells his story, the better.
Democrats are offering the GOP other options. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., proposed that both parties demand that any memos, tapes and transcripts shedding light on Trump’s meetings with the Russian diplomats and with Comey be turned over to Congress. He also called for pressure on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to name a special prosecutor.
If persuasion doesn’t work, Senate Democrats should force a vote on an independent counsel. They should also ask Republicans to join them in pledging opposition to any appointee to head the FBI who is not universally seen as immune to Trump’s influence. They need just three Republican votes.
It shows how far along we are that fears are already being voiced of a political backlash if Trump is railroaded out of office, especially since GOP rank-and-filers remain loyal to him. But delaying the process of getting to the truth will harm our country far more. And Republicans who throw up roadblocks will be hurt most of all.
E.J. Dionne can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @EJDionne.