As the Trump-Russia scandal continues to unfold, there are political and policy decisions for U.S. officials to consider, including how best to hold Vladimir Putin’s government accountable for the most serious attack on the United States since 9/11. At this point, Donald Trump’s White House is prepared to do effectively nothing – a posture that encourages additional attacks, because it signals to U.S. adversaries that there will be no consequences for their actions.
But let’s pull further on that thread. If Trump’s complacency and appeasement have the effect of encouraging foreign intervention in American campaigns, what are policymakers prepared to do to help protect the United States going forward? The president has already floated the idea of creating a cyber-security partnership with the people who attacked us – an idea no sane person could support.
But Team Trump isn’t the only game in town. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent had a very interesting scoop yesterday morning.
With President Trump continuing to claim the Russia scandal is a “hoax,” this question deserves more attention: What will Trump and Republicans do about the likelihood that Russia will attempt to undermine our elections again next time?
Democrats are now taking new steps to increase the pressure on Republicans to take this prospect a lot more seriously.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which oversees House races, has issued a formal request to its Republican counterpart, asking it to join in showing a “united front” and creating a “joint plan” against any Russian efforts to undermine the 2018 elections, I’ve learned.
It’s an approach that makes a lot of sense. U.S. intelligence officials have already said they expect Russia to try again – Putin’s first attack was wildly successful, and he has every incentive to return to the scene of the crime – and now is the time to prepare a proper American defense against the next foreign intervention.
The DCCC’s letter to the National Republican Congressional Committee is based on the idea that partisans are Americans first, and there are steps the parties can take now to help protect the process for everyone.
All Republican officials have to do is agree to a bipartisan partnership before the next attack. As of yesterday, however, that appears unlikely.
An NRCC spokesperson told NBC News yesterday, in response to a question about the Democrats’ outreach, “The fact that this letter was delivered by an intern and immediately leaked to the press shows what an unserious political stunt it is.”
I’m not at all sure why it would matter to Republicans who delivered the letter – if Tom Perez had dropped it off, would they have been more impressed? – but the response suggests a cooperative, protect-our-democracy approach is unlikely.
This is, alas, a familiar outcome. When the Obama White House dispatched a high-level team of intelligence officials to Capitol Hill last fall, looking for a united front against the Russian attack while it was ongoing, congressional Republican leaders refused bipartisan cooperation then, too.
It’s difficult to say with confidence what’s motivating Republicans to take such an approach, but it’s only a matter of time before Democrats start to ask publicly whether GOP leaders – on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue – are actually comfortable with foreign adversaries subverting our democracy.