Usually the first answer is the most revealing answer. Take Sen. Pat Toomey. In the first, frenetic hours after the shocking news that President Trump had fired the FBI director whose agents were investigating his campaign, Pennsylvania's Toomey was one of handful of prominent Republicans who seemed to suddenly vanish into the bushes, just like that Homer Simpson GIF you're always seeing online.
Then the Washington correspondent for the Allentown Morning Call spotted Toomey on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning and asked for his reaction to Jim Comey's abrupt firing, which has triggered the nation's worst constitutional crisis since the boozy nights when Richard Nixon was talking to the White House portraits.
"I've got nothing for you right now," responded Toomey -- although in fairness it wasn't clear if that was his answer on the Comey mess or if he was trying out a new slogan for his 2022 re-election campaign. In fact, I'm pretty sure the phrase is etched somewhere on the Toomey family coat of arms: Ego nunc habeo quod pro vobis.
As the day wore on and the Comey fallout continued to drown out all other news (including the arrest of a journalist for simply trying to ask a question of a Trump Cabinet secretary), the GOP senator and his staff realized that something was maybe better than nothing. In a statement, Toomey said he's long harbored doubts about Comey as FBI chief but "the timing of his dismissal was unfortunate."
Left unanswered was when exactly is the right time for Trump to unilaterally fire the man who was leading an aggressive probe of corruption involving many of the president's men, who just in the last few days had had the nerve to ask the White House for more money to expand that investigation? Is it before firing other people who were also on the trail of his graft -- like acting attorney general Sally Yates and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara? Or after? Is there some kind of Richard Nixon Remembrance Day when presidents are handed a Get Out of Constitutional Checks and Balances Free card?
Toomey's response to Trump's Tuesday Night Massacre was lame, woefully inadequate -- and yet all too typical. In the hours following Trump's rash action -- reportedly fueled by his rising anger as news of the Russia probe kept recycling on the cable news that the president watches for much of his day -- top Republicans stuck their fingers to the wind, picked up the foul stench of Fox News rallying support for the embattled Trump, and decided that sometimes the best courage is no courage.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, after waiting 24 hours, told Fox News that Comey had lost people's confidence and that "it is entirely within the president’s role and authority to relieve him and that’s what he did." (Only one FBI director has ever been fired -- over allegations of improper actions like employees chauffeuring his wife on shopping trips.) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected calls for a new independent probe despite mounting evidence that other investigations have been tainted.
Indeed, many GOPers adopted what the Watergate conspirators might have called a modified limited hangout: They insisted they were "troubled" by Trump's move, but not so troubled that they'd want a special independent prosecutor. Even though a special prosecutor may be the last and only way left to get the truth. In fairness, at least the "troubled" Republicans said something; others, including my own congressman Pat Meehan, have managed to maintain a strict radio silence so far.
Call these guys the Banana Republicans. Because with GOP control of both houses of Congress as well as the Supreme Court, only serious opposition to Trump's actions from members of his own party -- even just a small handful -- can stop the new administration from taking America down the path of autocratic government.
The Washington Post's James Downie noted that it was only Democratic control of Congress that allowed the Nixon Watergate probes to even get off the ground in 1973, and that prominent Republicans only joined the bandwagon after those investigations found damning evidence against the 37th president. The GOP of the 21st Century has shown again and again that it values winning over the good of the country. Tuesday's news regarding Trump firing Comey was very, very bad. Today's news is ten times worse. Trump is getting away with it.
Wednesday night, I swung by Toomey's new Philadelphia digs in Old City. About 25 people had turned out for a last-minute "emergency rally" -- organized by the established progressive group MoveOn.org -- aimed at pleading with the senator to support naming a special prosecutor to examine Trump's Russia ties. It was a small crowd for an impossible mission, but those who did turn out believe silence is no longer an option.
"It's an abuse of power," said Amy Pike, a 50-year-old therapist from Moorestown, N.J. who heard about the impromptu action on Facebook and decided to come down with her daughter Kate, a political science major at Rowan University. She said she was "terrified" by the Comey firing, the latest move by Trump that now has her taking part in protests like this one for the first time in her life. "This administration has been so scary and so against my values -- especially the lies."
It feels like the Amy Pikes of the world are the last line of defense. But America is going to need so many more like her -- doing more protesting, more often -- to counteract the crushing weight of dishonest right-wing media and a divisive climate that offers political cover to senators and congressmen who don't seem to mind even a dictator as long as there's an (R) attached to him. Sen. Toomey got it right the first time. He's got nothing for us right now.
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