For those who are concerned about the rule of law and the integrity of the nation's justice system, the good news is some Senate Republicans were willing to make a notable concession yesterday. Donald Trump, several GOP lawmakers agreed, should not have taken steps to intervene in the criminal proceedings against his longtime advisor, Roger Stone.
The bad news is, there's no reason to believe they'll actually do anything about the president's latest abuse.
While most Capitol Hill Republicans are content to ignore the latest presidential mess, which has sparked a crisis at the Justice Department, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters, "I think the president would be better served by never commenting on pending federal investigations."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) went further, telling reporters yesterday, "I don't like this chain of events where you have a ... proceeding, a sentencing, a recommended sentence, the president weighs in and all of the sudden Justice comes back, says 'change the deal.' I think most people would look at that and say, 'Hmm, that just doesn't look right.' And I think they're right." The Alaskan added that it's "just bad" that Trump felt the need to "jump into the middle of this in the first place."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), close White House ally, went so far as to say, "I don't think [Trump] should be commenting on cases in the system, I don't think that's appropriate."
This seems like a constructive first step in the right direction. The trouble, of course, is that there will be no second step, at least not in the GOP-led Senate. Politico reported yesterday:
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham has little interest in investigating the Justice Department's abrupt reversal of a sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone -- rebuffing a Democratic demand sparked by President Donald Trump's attacks on the federal prosecutors in the case.
The South Carolinian added that he wasn't "losing any sleep" over the fact that four prosecutors felt the need to resign in response to political intervention in ongoing legal proceedings.
Around the same time, Susan Collins said she planned to call the White House to express her concerns.
I think it's probably safe to assume Team Trump will not care about Collins' planned telephone outreach, but in 2020, this is apparently what counts as "Republican pushback" to the latest presidential abuse.
The Washington Post published two sentences this morning that members of Congress should read carefully: "President Trump is testing the rule of law one week after his acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial, seeking to bend the executive branch into an instrument for his personal and political vendetta against perceived enemies. And Trump -- simmering with rage, fixated on exacting revenge against those he feels betrayed him and insulated by a compliant Republican Party -- is increasingly comfortable doing so to the point of feeling untouchable, according to the president's advisers and allies."
This is consistent with everything we've seen from Donald Trump for quite a while: he tests a boundary, crosses a line, and waits to see if he faces any adverse consequences. When the dust settles, he tests a new boundary, crosses another line, waits again to see if he gets away with it, and so on.
It's going to take more than a disappointed phone call from Susan Collins to curtail an emboldened president with authoritarian instincts.