A great nervousness is settling over Washington as the city awaits the Mueller report and the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House is about to take power. This convergence of events could create a constitutional crisis in our nation. Why_?_
A statement earlier this week by 44 former U.S. senators made major news across the country and around the world. The Washington Post prominently published this statement from 32 Democrats, 10 Republicans and two independents. The senators declared, "We are former senators. The Senate has long stood in defense of democracy — and must again." I was one of the signers.
Our statement reads, "We are on the eve of the conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation and the House's commencement of investigations of the president and his administration. The likely convergence of these two events will occur at a time when simmering regional conflicts and global power confrontations continue to threaten our security, economy and geopolitical stability."
Why did we sign this letter? Most of the interpretations given by the media and the talk shows have been that this letter was aimed at keeping President Donald Trump acting within the Constitution.
However, many of us, including myself, also aimed the letter at the new Democratic majority taking over the House, which is talking of a "blizzard" of impeachments, subpoenas and investigations against Trump.
As a signer, I can only speak for myself in terms of interpretation. I think, in plain language, it's urging the president to let the Mueller investigation play out. Also, it is simultaneously urging the new Democratic majority in the House to stay within the confines of the broad interpretations of the Constitution and not engage in endless impeachment investigations and issuances of subpoenas and other activities aimed to weaken or destroy the president.
The reason I signed was to urge Congress to "return to business as usual" or the "regular order" process of government.
The new Democratic U.S. House should pass specific legislation and demonstrate what positive legislating should be. For example, if the Democrats do not grant Trump his wall, they should pass a bill immediately in the House on exactly what their plan is for border security. Or perhaps they should pass a bill stating that they wish to continue with the current system.
Some may say the Senate might not act or the president might not sign new legislation. That is not the point. Both chambers need to get back to passing bills. Congress needs to vote 10 to 12 times a day on amendments. Merely opposing Trump without offering specific, alternative solutions is not helpful.
On the other hand, Trump must follow the law and the intent of the penumbra of our Constitution. He should respect the other branches of government — although he can certainly criticize them. But whenever possible, he should work with Congress in developing legislation.
Our letter continues, "During our service in the Senate, at times we were allies and at other times opponents, but never enemies."
It is a very rare occasion when such a large bipartisan group of former U.S. senators get together to write such a letter. I think it reflects the seriousness of our current state of affairs in Washington and in our nation. I signed the letter because I think we are entering a very dangerous period in America's history.
In my previous columns, I have bent over backward to say good things about Trump. He has the courage to raise very tough issues, but just as I think his administration is settling down, he makes some outrageous tweet or statement, such as he did last week in referring to our respected former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, as "lazy as hell" and "dumb as a rock." Such language is just reckless and unnecessary. Some fear if the impeachment matter goes forward in the House, the president may feel cornered and might act recklessly in some other matters of state.
I have been disappointed in most of the reporting in the national and international media on our statement. Most journalistic reports dwell on Trump's problems. For example, the Financial Times of London's report reads as though our letter was aimed only at Trump. As stated above, we believe the new Democratic House is equally responsible to join in a period of reconciliation and mutual respect.
The U.S. Senate has a major responsibility to calm down both the U.S. House and the president and to guide us through this dangerous period. That is why 44 former senators made this statement.
We fear a constitutional crisis.
To show the nationwide scope and the mixture of philosophies, I list the signers of the letter below:
Max Baucus, D-Mont., Evan Bayh, D-Ind., Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Bill Bradley, D-N.J., Richard Bryan, D-Nev., Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., Max Cleland, D-Ga., William Cohen, R-Maine, Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Al D'Amato, R-N.Y., John C. Danforth, R-Mo., Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., David Durenberger, R-Minn., Russ Feingold, D-Wis., Wyche Fowler, D-Ga., Bob Graham, D-Fla., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Gary Hart, D-Colo., Bennett Johnston, D-La., Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., John Kerry, D-Mass., Paul Kirk, D-Mass., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., Richard Lugar, R-Ind., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Sam Nunn, D-Ga., Larry Pressler, R-S.D., David Pryor, D-Ark., Don Riegle, D-Mich., Chuck Robb, D-Va., Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., Mark Udall, D-Colo., John W. Warner, R-Va., Lowell Weicker, I-Conn., Tim Wirth, D-Colo.