Republican leadership: The new silent majority
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

When Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeHow to survive an impeachment Are Senate Republicans certain that Trump can return to office? Jeff Flake calls Trump's language 'authoritarian' MORE, the junior Republican senator from Arizona, was a young congressional staffer serving in the House of Representatives in the mid-1990s, he signed up for an ill-fated staff delegation to Southern Africa, with a stop in Zaire, which is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Upon arrival, Flake, along with two other staffers, boarded a WWII-vintage DC-3 and flew from Kinshasa, the capital city, to Jamba, in Southern Angola. It was to be a mission of U.S. advocacy for peace.


As Flake tells the story, he barely made it out with his life, between the trigger-happy presidential protection unit, the rebel forces and the monstrous thunderstorm that nearly swallowed the plane whole.


I thought about that story this weekend, because it reminded me that the senator has guts, and is willing to take political risks.

That was certainly true this Saturday, when he became one of the first Republican members of Congress to speak out against President Trump’s executive order to halt the entry into the U.S. of all citizens from seven designated, and largely Muslim, nations, and to freeze the re-settlement of refugees from war-torn Syria.

The executive order was issued without exception, regardless of visa or green card status, and irrespective of the circumstances of the individual or family impacted. It was a blanket action.

Flake tweeted out, "President Trump and his administration are right to be concerned about national security, but it’s unacceptable when even legal permanent residents are being detained or turned away at airports and ports of entry. Enhancing long-term national security requires that we have a clear-eyed view of radical Islamic terrorism without ascribing radical Islamic terrorist views to all Muslims." 

Within 24 hours, a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York, issued an emergency stay, permitting the entry into the U.S. of those with valid visas and green cards.

But the collateral damage continues.

No doubt, all Americans should be concerned with protecting the homeland. But the White House executive order on immigration is just bad policy masquerading as political theatre.

There was no justification for the countries selected. No imminent threat. These seven nations were on a list that the State Department submits to the Congress of those states harboring terrorists or foreign fighters, without correlation to the threat posed to U.S. citizens in America.

The Trump surrogates who have come out to justify the White House action, including press secretary Sean Spicer, could not, or will not, walk viewers through their decision-making process. The righteousness of their position is non-negotiable.

If you are not with us, “you are against strong borders,” you are “weak on immigration,” you are “against protecting America from Islamic Extremists.” Such hyperbole is really dangerous, particularly when it is not challenged by those with the constitutional responsibility to do so. 

Other than Flake, the Republican members of Congress who have spoken out are few and far between. Only a few Houses members and a handful other senators have criticized the action, including Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Video depicting Trump killing media, critics draws backlash Backlash erupts at video depicting Trump killing media, critics Cindy McCain condemns video of fake Trump shooting political opponents, late husband MORE (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham throws support behind Trump's Turkey sanctions Hillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill Fury over Trump Syria decision grows MORE (R-S.C.), who said in a joint statement "we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism."

Meanwhile, the Republican congressional leadership has been on mute. Said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFury over Trump Syria decision grows Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump to slap sanctions on Turkey for Syria offensive | Trump calls on Turkey to broker ceasefire | Pelosi, Graham seek deal on sanctions | Ex-Trump aide testifies in impeachment probe Trump: Let Assad, Russia or China protect the Kurds MORE (R-Ky.) on ABC’s “This Week,” “The president has a lot of latitude to try to secure the country, and I’m not going to make a blanket criticism of this effort.”

And yesterday, breaking his silence, Speaker of the House Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis.) announced that he stood “firmly behind Trump’s move” to suspend the refugee-resettlement program and temporarily block entry into the United States from seven majority-Muslim countries, but “regretted” the confusion surrounding its implementation.

I fully appreciate the importance of party loyalty, particularly during the first 100 days of a new presidency, but not when decisions are ill-constructed, and violate the fundamental values that define our country.

So good for Flake, for McCain, for Graham, and for all of those Republican members who challenged the president. Because in the end, blind loyalty is corrosive to our democratic institutions and will diminish our leaders, not empower them.


K. Riva Levinson is president and CEO of KRL International LLC, a DC-based consultancy that works in the world’s emerging markets, and author of "Choosing the Hero: My Improbable Journey and the Rise of Africa's First Woman President" (Kiwai Media, June 2016).

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