Washington • Our nation does not have to face a constitutional crisis, but we are barreling toward one at breakneck speed. The House should not have to move quickly toward impeachment, but it may now have little choice.
And let's be clear: The prime mover in all this, who is perfectly happy to wreck our institutions to serve his own selfish interests, is President Trump. But we would not be courting chaos if Republicans in the House and Senate had not abandoned their commitments to fact and accountability in their zeal to help the president escape the consequences of his actions.
The week’s most important event was thus not Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s craven, reckless partisanship in declaring “case closed” on Trump.
He said this despite special counsel Robert Mueller's report describing so many instances of obstruction of justice that more than 700 former federal prosecutors signed a letter declaring that were Trump not president, the findings would lead to "multiple felony charges." Case closed?
The report also detailed at least 140 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, by Trump and 18 of his associates, as The New York Times reported. We are not supposed to care about this? Case closed?
And in his acidic soliloquy on Tuesday, McConnell had the shameless audacity to blame President Obama for Russia's interference when it was McConnell himself who resisted the intelligence community's findings about Russian meddling before the 2016 election. McConnell also led GOP efforts to block a bipartisan statement Obama sought that would've given the country some warning about what Vladimir Putin's agents were doing. McConnell's only consistency is his party-before-country commitment to protecting Trump.
There are Republicans who purport to care about more than Trump’s well-being and comfort. With McConnell clearly all-in on the president’s twisting of the law and flouting of Congress’ legitimate authority, Republican senators who claim to care about the Constitution need to speak up. And they should do so now, not after they have had weeks or months to put their fingers to the wind. Where are Sens. Cory Gardner, Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Martha McSally, Joni Ernst and Thom Tillis? Any four of them could join with Senate Democrats to begin building a Coalition for Accountability.
And during the House Judiciary debate over the contempt citation for Barr, Republican members spoke in favor of the only infrastructure program they're likely to embrace this year: the construction of an impenetrable stone wall keeping Congress from getting any information out of this administration.
It should be astounding that Republicans want to investigate FBI officials — a goal pressed during the Judiciary Committee debate by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, — for daring to do their jobs investigating the Trump campaign’s potential Russian ties. But what’s more astonishing is that we are no longer surprised that members of Trump’s party would undercut work aimed at protecting our democracy from intrusion by a hostile foreign power in order to aggrandize a scam artist. His latest boast, by the way, is that he avoided taxes for “sport.”
With Republicans cheering on Trump's campaign to block Congress' access to witnesses and documents, House Democrats have fewer and fewer options short of impeachment to establish that the rule of law still exists.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been hoping for a more decorous process. Ideally, the House would hold hearings and increase public awareness about the charges against Trump without having to rush the issue of whether the president should be removed. On Wednesday, she voiced her frustration over seeing this option strangled by Trump's witness gag-order. She even introduced a new phrase into the political lexicon during a Washington Post interview, saying the president was "becoming self-impeachable."
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., later elucidated Pelosi's linguistic innovation on MSNBC. In its across-the-board resistance, "the administration is not helping their own cause here, unless impeachment is exactly what the president wants." Schiff, who shares Pelosi's caution, acknowledged that "the degree to which the administration is now obstructing Congress ... adds weight to the argument of those who are urging impeachment."
We don't know if Trump longs for impeachment to rally his supporters. What we do know is that he and his party are unwilling to make the substantive accommodations to transparency that would avert an all-out political war. If it comes to an impeachment battle, the president and the GOP will have fired the first shots.
E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.