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Time for Republicans to Grow a Spine

Time for Republicans to Grow a Spine

The dark bond between President Trump and Vladimir Putin reached a new level this week, as the American president betrayed his own intelligence agencies — and the entire nation — by publicly snuggling up to his Russian counterpart. Mr. Trump’s fawning over Mr. Putin was so disgraceful and creepy — oh, that wink! — that even many Republican lawmakers felt moved to express their discomfort.

But as cathartic as it may be for lawmakers to vent over Mr. Trump’s subservience to the Russian strongman, words alone are worth about as much as Mr. Putin’s assurances that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 elections. Those Republicans looking for a pretext to avoid confronting a president of their party — those accustomed to behaving like whipped dogs — may try to dodge behind Mr. Trump’s clumsy attempt on Tuesday to weasel out of his most egregious comments. But those who are serious about defending American democracy and undoing the damage of Mr. Trump’s globally televised submissiveness have the power to take action.

Senator Jeff Flake’s push for a resolution condemning the president’s comments is a lovely start, though a bit tame under the circumstances. To help get things rolling, here are several additional suggestions, organized on an ascending scale based on the amount of political courage needed.

Let’s start easy, with a handful of “Non-Lickspittle” moves, some of which have already been called for by Senate Democrats:

  1. Fully implement the broad Russia sanctions bill passed last year, with a special focus on Mr. Putin and the oligarchs in his inner circle. Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee put some fresh ones on the table months ago. Now seems like a good time to revisit.
  2. Hold hearings and compel testimony from the national security team that accompanied Mr. Trump to Helsinki, Finland. Demand details of any pledges made in the Trump-Putin private session.
  3. Stop parroting the president’s line that the federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies are politically motivated, inept and generally corrupt. At the very least, House Speaker Paul Ryan should publicly call out his rowdier troops for pushing to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
  4. Call on Mr. Trump to demand the extradition of the Russians whom the Justice Department gained indictments for last week.
  5. Take additional steps to protect the integrity of the coming elections from further Russian meddling. Significantly more money is needed, along with incentives for state and local election agencies to identify weak spots, erect firewalls and pursue other precautions. From what we alreadyknow about Russia’s invading voter databases, it is eager to make mischief.

Moving in the direction of requiring more political spine, let’s next consider “Laudably Responsible” steps:

  1. Pass legislation protecting Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mr. Ryan’s enduring confidence that Mr. Trump would never be so rash as to ax the special counsel suggests, at best, a naïve optimism. (Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said last month that it was time for Mr. Mueller to “wrap it up.”) And skip all the whinging about how Mr. Trump wouldn’t sign such a bill. Pro tip: Vetoes can be overridden. Look it up.
  2. Pass legislation preventing Mr. Trump from unilaterally pulling out of NATO. Will this displease the president — and Mr. Putin — and draw fire from the base? Yes. But if lawmakers weren’t merely covering their hides with the pro-NATO resolution they released last week, they should move to give it substance.

And finally, on the off chance that some Republican lawmakers seriously want to show that they care more about the public good than about their petty partisan or personal ambitions, here are a few ways to “Poke the Bear”:

  1. House leadership should remove Representative Devin Nunes as head of the Intelligence Committee. Mr. Nunes has done as much as any member of Congress to undermine a credible investigation into the administration’s dealings with Russia. He needs to be put in a safe corner miles away from the entire issue.
  2. Pass a resolution censuring the president for his Helsinki display. Let Mr. Putin know that not every American politician is eager to be his dancing bear.
  3. Refuse to confirm even one more nominee, judicial or executive, until you get some of the aforementioned answers and protections. Yes, absolutely including the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

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