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A Stand Worth Taking

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In his dramatic Senate floor speech Tuesday announcing his decision not to seek reelection, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) didn’t decry President Donald Trump’s incivility and inhumanity alone, but his authoritarian conduct, and the serial lying that forms the basis of  it.

“I rise today to say: enough,” he said. “We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals [or] the flagrant disregard for truth and decency…. We were not made great as a country by indulging in or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorifying in the things that divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake.”

On Wednesday, as if to exemplify Flake’s critique, Trump exonerated the Russian government for subverting the 2016 election on his behalf.

Democrats “lost [the election] by a lot, they didn’t know what to say, so they made up the whole Russia hoax,” he said in an impromptu Q&A with reporters. “Now it’s turning out that the hoax is turned around. And you look at what’s happened with Russia, and you look at the Uranium deal. And you look at the fake dossier. So that’s turned around.”

Trump didn’t just claim he didn’t collude with Russia, or that Russia didn’t sabotage the Clinton campaign, but drew in unrelated fabrications to claim that, if anything, the real story runs in the opposite direction.

It has been apparent for some time that Trump isn’t really embarrassed by Russia’s role in his campaign’s success, but appreciated their involvement and welcomes more of it. At the very least it is apparent that, for perhaps multiple reasons, he’s trying to help Russia get away with what they did last year, and what they are angling to do next year.

So back to Jeff Flake, and the two other Senate Republicans now aligned in direct opposition to Trump. If they are sincerely fed to the teeth with Trump “calling fake things true and true things fake,” then this instance, in which Trump’s dishonesty serves the interests of a hostile power, seems like as good a place as any to draw a line.

The fact that Trump’s government has been at best derelict in its obligation to secure the nation’s political infrastructure from foreign influence is something three committed Republicans can change practically overnight if they take their own commitments seriously. They can stop all Senate business until Trump instructs the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and other relevant agencies to implement a specific plan to protect the country from further interference. They can stop House priorities from becoming law unless Speaker Paul Ryan reins in congressional investigators who have decided to turn the lower chamber’s oversight capacity into a protection racket. 

Bob Corker and Flake alone can use the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (which Corker chairs) as a platform for, per the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, “treat[ing] the threat of outside sabotage of our democracy more seriously.”

It has only been 24 hours since the anti-Trump Republican faction in the Senate reached critical mass. But the longer they wait to make use of their leverage, the more their conspicuous defections will start to look like the self-serving self-righteousness of people who know the worst is coming and don’t want to be personally associated with it.