Both sides of the aisle were swift to speak out against President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin. Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb) said the summit was “bizarre.” Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) characterized the meeting as “shameful.” Not to be left out, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz) referred to it as “disgraceful.” Those were mild reactions to Trump’s behavior at Helsinki. Other legislators were far harsher. Regardless of party, more than a dozen have described the summit as one of the worst, most embarrassing displays from any president in U.S. history.
Trump did what was until now considered unthinkable for a U.S. president. He bashed his own country and took the word of a foreign leader that is not our ally over his own intelligence agencies because he was “extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” as reported by ABC. He referred to Robert Mueller’s probe of Russia a “disaster.” He has been accused of making America look weak, and his representation of the U.S., embarrassing. A column appearing in the Chicago Tribune shows that some members of his own party spoke up a bit louder and harsher than others.
The Republicans that rebuked the president reads like a “who’s who” of beltway politics. A few notable detractors include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis), Liz Cheney (R-Wyo), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, (R-Va), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill), Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn), with all them speaking out against Trump and making it clear that what he said is not acceptable to them.
In an interview appearing on The Hill, Flake echoed the sentiments of several of his counterparts.
“It was disbelief, really. It was disbelief. I couldn’t believe that a president would put as much faith, or more faith, in the words of a dictator… over our own intelligence services,”
A question that arises from these rebukes, is whether or not they will translate into doing anything to force Trump to conduct himself differently? Considering that members of his own party were in agreement with the intelligence community that the Helsinki summit was neither needed, nor a good idea, Trump ignored their advice. His actions there certainly betrayed his party’s core belief that Russia is not an ally, as Paul Ryan has stressed to CNN.
One way the House and Senate can reign in the POTUS is to vote against his legislation on the floor. That sends as clear a message as can be sent following the rules of law, short of trying to invoke the 25th Amendment. The problem is, these are people that have rebuked Trump before, as they are now, and still supported him with their votes.
In an interview appearing on The Hill, Flake has talked about bringing forward a resolution to counter Trump’s comments at Helsinki, but he had not discussed it with party leadership yet. If he does, and it is to censure Trump, it will be curious to see whether it gains support. Saying things in the press is one thing but casting a vote to support those words is quite another. Looking at the voting records of some key Republicans, we can see words aren’t always followed up with actions.
Take Flake for instance. According to FiveThirtyEight, he votes with Trump 83 percent of the time. Even when he has vocally opposed Trump, as is pointed out at Business Insider, he will almost never vote against him. John McCain is a lot like Flake in that regard, voting with Trump 83 percent of the time. Sure there was the healthcare vote, but otherwise, he toes the line. Paul Ryan votes with the POTUS 95 percent of the time. According to FiveThirtyEight, in the last 18 months, the only thing he’s voted against Trump on is the farm bill. He is about as reliable as they come when it boils down to supporting Trump on the floor.
Then there’s Kinzinger. He is interesting in that he votes with Trump 98.8 percent of the time. In the last 18 months, the only times he opposed Trump were on a bill to sanction Russia and another regarding the private messages during searches. That is an amazing level of support. That is something to consider when he talks about getting tough on Trump.
Based on the voting histories of these, and most Republicans in office right now, on FiveThirtyEight, none of them votes against Trump on a regular basis. But some analysts point to this being a different situation due to public perception. For generations of U.S. citizens, Russia is not our friend. In the minds of some people who remember the Cold War era, they never will be. Even the appearance of being cozy with Putin in a way that has been described repeatedly as disturbing, shocking, even un-American and treasonous, as can be seen on Fortune, is something that it is believed even many of his base supporters will be turned off by.
The general reaction to the Helsinki summit has been negative from most analysts and U.S. politicians that have spoken on the record. Very few attempts to defend the POTUS have been made, aside from Fox News playing devil’s advocate in a column. How all this outrage plays out, only time will tell. To censure or not to censure, that is the question.