The vast majority of congressional Republicans have been willing to stick to the White House’s script in the wake of the Mueller report’s release, but we’ve seen a handful of notable exceptions.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), for example, arguably Congress’ most moderate GOP member, told Maine Public Radio last week that the special counsel’s findings offered “an unflattering portrayal of the president.”
And if Collins had been in New Jersey in 1937, I suspect she might’ve described the Hindenburg as “an unfortunate transportation incident.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) went considerably further on Friday, issuing a written statement that read:
“It is good news that there was insufficient evidence to charge the President of the United States with having conspired with a foreign adversary or with having obstructed justice. The alternative would have taken us through a wrenching process with the potential for constitutional crisis. The business of government can move on.
“Even so, I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President. I am also appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia – including information that had been illegally obtained; that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement; and that the campaign chairman was actively promoting Russian interests in Ukraine.
“Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders.”
The statement, not surprisingly, was not well received at the White House. Donald Trump, who’s had a strained relationship with the senator whom he considered for his cabinet, published a tweet on Saturday afternoon, mocking Romney’s defeat in the 2012 presidential election.
Putting aside the fact that Romney actually won a larger share of the popular vote than Trump, my concerns about the senator’s statement came from a very different angle.
To be sure, given that so few GOP officials were willing to say anything even remotely critical of the president, the fact that Romney responded to the Mueller report by throwing a few elbows seemed reassuring. Since Thursday morning, Republican principles have largely gone into hiding, so Romney’s public disgust stood out for a reason.
But the seven words that stood out for me in Romney’s statement were these: “The business of government can move on.”
In practical terms, the Utah Republican seems eager to have it both ways. On the one hand, Romney wants to take a stand, condemn Trump’s misdeeds, and position himself as the brave truth-teller in a party that’s too afraid of his party’s base to respond to the Mueller report with candor.
On the other hand, Romney doesn’t actually want to do anything of practical significance. His statement wasn’t intended to serve as the starting point for a conversation about how best to hold the president accountable for his transgressions; rather, the senator’s statement was apparently his end point.
After all, as Romney sees it, “The business of government can move on.”
But maybe it can’t? With the special counsel’s report detailing multiple instances in which the president lied, encouraged others to lie, and repeatedly obstructed a federal investigation, is this really the best time to walk away from the revelations?
As the Washington Post’s Michael Gerson noted late last week, “Already, Republicans are urging the country to move on. In this case, moving on would ignore and reward corruption on a grand scale.”