The Constitution trumps the president
© Getty Images

Jackson Lee: “On January 20, 2017, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE took an oath – the first of his life – to preserve and protect the Constitution and to take care that our nation’s laws are faithfully executed, and we, the American people, must all do our part to hold him to his word.”

On Jan. 20, 2017, with his right hand placed on the historic Lincoln Bible, Donald Trump uttered the most important sentence of his life:

ADVERTISEMENT
"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

These 35 words – spoken verbatim by every U.S. President at their inauguration – have achieved a hallowed status in our nation’s collective memory and psyche. These 35 words have immense symbolic meaning, but they also possess real power. They are enshrined in Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution, the blueprint for our democratic system of government and the founding document upon which our society is built. They bind their speaker in an oath to uphold the Chief Office of the Executive Branch of the United States. These 35 words state, in the starkest of terms, the two fundamental duties of the president: to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” and to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.

Before Jan. 20, 2017, every president, from George Washington to Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama in Kenya for launch of sister’s sports center Get ready for summit with no agenda and calculated risks US envoy to Russia: 'Highly unlikely' that Trump will recognize Russia annexation of Crimea MORE, had served in elected office or the military, held a government position, or been a member of the bar prior to entering the Oval Office. Before Jan. 20, 2017, Donald Trump had never been elected to public office, nor served in the military, nor held a position in the government, nor been admitted to practice law before the bar. This is noteworthy because it means that in his 70 years of living, Donald Trump had never taken a public oath to uphold the Constitution before Jan. 20, 2017. 

During his campaign, Trump often touted his lack of political experience as a strength. Since Jan. 20, however, it has become increasingly obvious that Trump’s illustrious career as a real estate mogul, television personality, and Victoria’s Secret judge has left him entirely unequipped to grasp the full weight, scope, meaning of – and the obligations he assumed in taking – the Presidential Oath of Office.

It is the solemn duty of the president to exercise his authority consistent with the Constitution and in a manner that supports and strengthens the rule of law. The Constitution imposes on the Congress the responsibility to hold the Chief Executive accountable if he abuses his powers. Such is the genius of the founders who created our system of checks and balances in the Constitution. Congress, especially the House of Representatives, is the political branch of the government closest to the people; therefore, if the president is called upon to answer for abuses of power, he answers to the Congress acting on behalf of the American people.

As a senior member of Congress and the House Committees on Judiciary and Homeland Security, I am ever mindful of my responsibility to preserve and protect the pillars of our democracy. I answer to my constituents directly and indirectly to all Americans. Donald Trump, unfortunately, has yet to grasp this fact. Trump has repeatedly acted out his selfish desire to discredit or eliminate an official investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election – as evidenced by his firing of former FBI Director James Comey and his contemplated dismissal of Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsConservatives moving to impeach Rosenstein soon: report Senators urge DOJ to probe whether Russians posed as Islamic extremist hackers to harass US military families The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies for Putin summit: 'He’s not my enemy’ MORE and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. These actions illustrate a fundamental misunderstanding of, and brazen disregard for, the rule of law, checks and balances, and separation of powers that define our democracy.

If Trump fires Special Counsel Mueller, he will set into motion a sequence of events eerily reminiscent of one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history – the Watergate scandal of 1974. In particular, Trump will be reenacting the Saturday Night Massacre, when Richard Nixon’s order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox led to the resignations of Attorney General Elliott Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. The public reaction and congressional response to the Saturday Night Massacre was swift: numerous resolutions of impeachment were quickly introduced in Congress, and just nine months later, the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment charging Nixon with obstruction of justice.

As the ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, it is my job to take a proactive stance on presidential abuses of power that violate the Constitution and threaten our democracy.

I am not alone in my grave concern about Trump’s attempts to cover-up the tacit or active involvement of his campaign in activities of entities allied with the Russian Government to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Everyday Americans, journalists, and Members of Congress in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle come closer to connecting the dots.

For this reason, I have introduced H. Res. 474, a resolution condemning any action by the president to remove Special Counsel Mueller, impede his investigation, or pardon any person for offenses against the United States arising out of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 Presidential Election. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Health Care: Watchdog finds Tom Price improperly used funds on flights | Ex-Novartis CEO sent drug pricing proposal to Cohen | HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts: report Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs MORE (R-S.C.) has stated his intention to introduce legislation in the Senate making the firing of a Special Counsel appointed to investigate a president or his staff subject to judicial review.

The message to the president is clear and unmistakable: if he takes any action to hinder the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, he will provoke a bipartisan backlash and be met with a proportionate congressional response to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.

On Jan. 20, 2017, Donald Trump took an oath – the first of his life – to preserve and protect the Constitution and to take care that our nation’s laws are faithfully executed. We, the American people, must all do our part to hold him to his word.

Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeOvernight Defense: Defense spending bill amendments target hot-button issues | Space Force already facing hurdles | Senators voice 'deep' concerns at using military lawyers on immigration cases Live coverage: Justice IG testifies before House on report criticizing FBI Merkley leads Dem lawmakers to border amid migrant policy outcry MORE, a Democrat representing Houston in the U.S. House of Representatives, is a senior member of the House Committees on Homeland Security and the Judiciary. She is the ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.