WASHINGTON — Our constitutional system designates the president as the person to execute the laws. Congress passes them, the president signs them, and then he is obligated to enforce them. His oath is clear on this point: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” What if he won’t or cannot execute his duties and/or cannot preserve, protect and defend the Constitution? The Constitution says the remedy is impeachment.
Within the past 24 hours we’ve seen the president threaten to ignore or violate the First Amendment and threaten a group of Americans with denial of service to which they are legally entitled.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said he found it “disgusting” that the press can write what it wants and suggested that NBC’s “license” be revoked for “fake news.” (After nine months, he still has no idea how the government works and what various agencies, commissions and departments do.) In response, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., tweeted a statement reading: “Mr. President: Words spoken by the President of the United States matter. Are you tonight recanting of the oath you took on January 20th to preserve, protect, and defend the First Amendment?” I asked Sasse by tweet and through his office if Sasse thinks Trump has renounced his oath, and if so whether he would favor impeachment. Neither Sasse nor his office would reply.
This is unacceptable. Sasse also took an oath to defend the Constitution. While it is the House’s job to initiate impeachment, as an elected leader Sasse can certainly raise the question of fitness and recommend the House proceed. Why tweet and then clam up — the political equivalent of knocking on the door and running away? Trump is a travesty, but it is the Senate and House Republicans who apparently believe, according to Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., that the president is not fit to govern. To do and say nothing is reckless and not in keeping with their own oaths of office.
It is the Senate and House Republicans who have heard and seen Trump denigrate the First Amendment, deny the Russian threat to our electoral system, fire an FBI director who did not bend to his will, attempt to badger the attorney general into resigning, etc. The question is not whether Trump thinks he has recanted his oath; it is whether Sasse and his colleagues do. It is time Republicans started doing their job rather than shuffling their feet when Corker talks or tweeting questions.
Each day Trump provides more examples of his inability or unwillingness to carry out the laws. The Washington Post reports:
“President Trump served notice Thursday that he may pull back federal relief workers from Puerto Rico, effectively threatening to abandon the U.S. territory amid a staggering humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
“Declaring the U.S. territory’s electrical grid and infrastructure to have been a ‘disaster before hurricanes,’ Trump wrote Thursday that it will be up to Congress how much federal money to appropriate to the island for its recovery efforts and that relief workers will not stay ‘forever.’ “
This is horrifying on a moral level, but it is also evidence that Trump’s temperament and emotional instability undermine his ability to do his job — in this case, direct the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies and personnel to get Puerto Rico up and running. He cannot refuse to provide services because the news coverage has been critical or because the mayor of San Juan has been mean to him.
There is no policy or even political upside for Trump to threaten a group of Americans as he is doing. Helping them is not optional, not a function of whether they pay homage to him. Increasingly it seems he cannot separate his personal feelings from his obligations under the Constitution. And unless and until Republicans begin to address this seriously, the country will remain at risk.
As for Democrats, their leadership appears to be so deathly afraid of discussing the president’s fitness in serious terms that they’ve left the discussion to fringe characters such as Rep. Al Green, D-Texas. That’s a mistake. Mainstream Democrats need to raise in a sober way concerns about whether Trump’s emotional and mental state is now driving policy (e.g. on the Iran deal), endangering our civil rights, and interfering with his ability and willingness to carry out the duties of his job. It’s not in their power in the minority to drive impeachment, but it is their duty, as set forth in their oaths, to do what is necessary to protect the country. The very least they could do would be to engage their GOP colleagues and start asking hard questions. I suggest they start with Corker.
The daily horror that is the Trump presidency seems to make no sense. He’s at war with the press, football players, Sen. Bob Corker, women, Puerto Rico, Obamacare and the Iran nuclear deal (partial list). For his disastrous efforts, the latest Gallup tracking poll puts Trump’s approval rating at 37 percent. A massive online survey of registered voters conducted by Morning Consult shows that support of the president has dropped in all 50 states.
And none of that matters.
In President Donald Trump, we have a man who craves applause, especially from those who love him. His base has been with him from the start and poll after poll shows they aren’t going anywhere. Not surprising since he’s been throwing them juicy red meat since he descended that escalator on June 16, 2015. What has been surprising is how solid his base support is.
The results of the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released late last month hammered this point home by showing numbers for “party supporters” and “Trump supporters.
To understand the vortex of hell we appear to be stuck in all you need to do is look at the first data point: “Approval of Trump’s job performance.” Among “party supporters,” Trump is at 84 percent approval. But among his supporters, he sits at an airtight 99 percent. This sky-high support has been consistent since he entered the Oval Office. So, this explains Trump’s gleeful goading of the NFL, Jemele Hill and “’Liddle’’ Bob Corker,” and his galling contempt for the Constitution and Puerto Rico, to name just a few.
This also helps explain why a right-wing House and Senate is living in fear of primary challenges from folks even farther to the right, (paging, Roy Moore). This is why Corker, R-Tenn., who hasn’t been shy about knocking the president, saved his most eye-popping critique of Trump until after he announced he wouldn’t seek another term in the Senate.
This isn’t to say Congress has totally rolled over for the president. They did defy him on the repeal of Obamacare and Russian sanctions. But the key test will come when the Senate returns from yet another recess next week.
When the microphone is thrust in their faces, will Corker’s colleagues cop to being among “the vast majority of our caucus . . . [who] understand the volatility that we’re dealing with”? Their avoidance, ducking or outright silence will demonstrate the power of those numbers anew.
This ran in Thursday’s Lewiston Tribune.
Call Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl what you like.
Say the Idaho native who walked away from his Afghanistan post is a fool.
Or he could be a psychologically troubled young man who had no business being in a combat zone.
Certainly, Bergdahl has become a political football.
What he is not, however, is a traitor.
Bergdahl did not take up arms against his fellow soldiers.
He did not plot against his country.
Nor did he sell information to the enemy.
So whatever punishment awaits him, there should be some room for perspective, even mercy.
Shortly after leaving his post in 2009, Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban—who chained him to his bed, locked him in a cage, beat him, held him in darkness and left him malnourished.
At the time, Idaho’s congressional delegation kept the pressure on the Obama administration to secure Bergdahl’s freedom.
Five years later, the White House negotiated his release. But the price paid to get Bergdahl back—turning five Taliban detainees held at Guantanamo Bay loose—enraged Congress.
Bergdahl also stood accused of getting his fellow soldiers injured while they were looking for him.
An Army investigation conducted by Lt. Gen. Kenneth Dahl concluded Bergdahl may have been delusional in believing his departure would focus the military leadership’s attention on his grievances. “Unrealistically idealistic” but “truthful” is how Dahl characterized Bergdahl in a report that recommended no additional prison time.
Dahl also found no evidence to show any American military members were killed looking for him.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported in 2014 that Bergdahl was turned out of the U.S. Coast Guard in 2006—after 26 days of basic training -because the service found him psychologically unfit for duty.
Two years later, Bergdahl received a waiver that allowed Army recruiters to disregard otherwise disqualifying issues such as a criminal record or a health problem.
But Gen. Robert B. Abrams called for a full court-martial.
The military accused Bergdahl of desertion, which means he would never have returned to his post had the Taliban not caught up with him. Conviction carries a potential five-year penalty. Next came the filing of misbehavior before the enemy, a charge brought in only a handful of cases. For that, Bergdahl could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Leave it to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump to fan the flames last year by calling Bergdahl a “no-good traitor, who should have been executed. ... Thirty years ago, he would have been shot.”
After a string of adverse rulings—including one that allowed troops who were wounded while looking for him to testify at a sentencing hearing—Bergdahl last week signaled his intention to enter a guilty plea to both charges.
His sentencing is set for Oct. 23.
Set aside the rhetoric and the politics for a moment.
What’s a just result?
Bust Bergdahl back to private.
Make him forfeit the back pay he’s collected.
Remove him from the military with a less-than-honorable discharge.
Give him credit for the time served as a captive.
Beyond that, however, what purpose would it serve to condemn Bergdahl to prison?
He has suffered enough for his mistakes. Bergdahl will carry the scars of his confinement and the shame of his misbehavior for the rest of his life.
After eight years, isn’t it time to move on?