It has become commonplace to bemoan the state of our democracy. Our institutions are being challenged, and conversations in the public square have coarsened. In a week of drama over the confirmation of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska had some advice for rectifying the situation: Congress should legislate.
Conservatives, including myself, have long been dismayed to witness Congress -- which was intended by America’s Founders to be the locus of our politics -- abdicating its responsibility. Over and over again, our leaders have dodged the tough votes and deferred power to the executive branch. Every stroke of the presidential pen, however, is met with almost immediate challenge before the judiciary. No wonder the American people have come to feel their fate lies with choice of a single SCOTUS judge rather than with the decisions made by their 535 duly elected federal representatives.
The failure of Congress to enact legislation which protects the investigation as to whether Russia interfered in our country’s elections is one of the gravest examples of the congressional “self-neutering” Sen. Sasse identified. Lack of action has allowed the very rule of law to become a pawn in a high-stakes game of chicken between the Oval Office and the Department of Justice. In many ways, the nation has already lost.
Today, we find ourselves on the precipice of constitutional crisis. Should President Trump dismiss Special Counsel Robert Mueller or take the round-about course to the same objective by replacing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, there will be a national uproar. Critical questions about presidential power are likely to end up before the Supreme Court and, unless the landscape changes dramatically, before the president’s own appointed judge. Whatever the result, many Americans’ faith in their government will be severely shaken.
The better choice is to immediately pass legislation which protects the current investigation from political interference. In doing so, not only will Congress clarify its intent regarding the special counsel and empower him to finish the job at hand, it will also help prevent hostile powers in the future from interfering in our country’s fair and free elections process. If there are more than the 12 Russians already identified as interfering in our elections, let them be found and indicted, too.
Moreover, Republicans can once again take their place as the defenders of the rule of law and the American belief that no one -- not even a president -- is above it. And although electoral questions pale in comparison with our nation’s future, there is little to fear at the ballot box if they take a stand. In fact, 55 percent of American voters approve of the special counsel, a number that is increasing.
In addition, there is a window of opportunity to regain a foothold among independents who swung for President Trump in 2016 but are concerned about the integrity of our justice system. Ironically, Republican control of Congress may depend on leaders’ embrace of their constitutional authority to check a Republican president.
In this, they would obey the proper master. Thomas Paine wrote in 1776 that “in America THE LAW IS KING.” Congress was never meant to kowtow to one individual, no matter how engaging his personality or how attractive his agenda. That august body has its own role to play in shaping and preserving the law. That means doing the hard work of governing, starting now.
Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.