A single courageous senator can derail the Trump administration

A single courageous senator can derail the Trump administration
© Getty Images

In this time of crisis, we need bold acts of conscience. We expect our leaders to place country over party. We need Jim Jeffords, but we don't have him. Who will step forward to take his place?

Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont famously left the Republican Party in 2001. He became an independent who caucused with the Democrats, giving Democrats control of what had been a 50-50 Senate.


Jeffords could no longer stand with his increasingly right-tilting party under the George W. Bush administration.


Today, every Republican of conscience now stands at a crossroads. With John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain says Ben Carson should be developing brain cancer treatment, not working at HUD Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats Pelosi receives John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award MORE ailing and unable to vote, the balance of power is 50-49. A single Republican willing to stand for morality and honesty and proclaim independence from their cowed and complicit party would make history. That act of courage would empower Congress to assume its proper role as counterbalance to our calamitous president.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE has already done immeasurable damage to our standing in the world, our public health protections and our environment. Meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress refuse to push back. As long as their voters support Trump, they stay quiet. They fear losing their jobs more than they fear losing their country.

So, I ask the most moderate Republicans, how can you remain silent in this crisis? Off-the-record, you acknowledge the gravity of this situation, the incompetence of the man in the White House, and the peril in which he has placed this country. What will it take to bring just one of you to the Jeffordsonian brink and to publicly declare your independence?

You can continue to vote for conservative policies as an independent — but if you shift control of Congress to Democrats, you disempower those who are unwilling to call out Trump for his attacks on the core principles of our republic.

In GovTrack’s 2017 conservative-to-liberal rankings, the middle is a muddle. Five Democrats rank as more conservative than Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights MORE (R-Maine). Two Democratic senators rank to the right of Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Park Service plans to pay full-time staff through entrance fees | Oil companies join blitz for carbon tax | Interior chief takes heat for saying he hasn't 'lost sleep' over climate change Democrats grill Trump Interior chief for saying he hasn't 'lost sleep' over climate change Congress must press Interior secretary to act on climate change MORE (R-Alaska). Even such GOP stalwarts as Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderCollins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' Senate chairman says bipartisan health care package coming Thursday It's time for Republicans to lead (again) on climate MORE (R-Tenn.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget WANTED: A Republican with courage Companies warn Trump trade war is about to hit consumers MORE (R-Ohio), and Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order to protect US networks from Chinese tech | Huawei downplays order | Trump declines to join effort against online extremism | Facebook restricts livestreaming | FCC proposes new tool against robocalls MORE (R-Neb.) turn up in the middle ground of this list.

Throughout the Trump presidency, Republican Party leaders have failed us. They refuse to hold Trump accountable — these senators in the American middle must stand up for what they know in their hearts is morally and ethically right.

Collins has called the president’s decision to take children from families crossing the border “contrary to our values.” On Russian attacks on our elections, she recognizes that “the need to act now to prevent malicious attempts to influence our democracy is urgent.” Her current party will not take that urgent action. 

Collins has a conservative-to-liberal ranking identical to the junior senator from her state, Angus KingAngus Stanley KingSenate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Trump, Europe increasingly at odds on Iran The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems raise stakes with talk of 'constitutional crisis' MORE — an independent caucusing with the Democrats. She is beloved in Maine, where she beat her last opponent by 36 percent. She has the security to risk this step.

Murkowski is an honest-to-god Alaskan maverick. She won reelection as a write-in candidate in 2010 after losing the Republican primary to a Tea Partier. Alaskans value her independence. She’s often one of two or three Republicans (along with Collins) voting with the Democrats. She’s pro-choice. Now that she has achieved the holy grail of Alaskan politics, legislation opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, she can act on her statements that Trump is often wrong.

Because of the Access Hollywood tape, Portman did not vote for Donald Trump. Sasse has said he believes Trump has no core principles. As a former university president, Sasse must be appalled by the president’s dismissal of science and ignorance of history. Alexander is known for his belief in bipartisan collaboration.

These Republican senators are known to be reasonable people. They say reasonable things. And they have relatively safe seats. If they declare themselves independents, they need not trade away a single policy position. So who will live up to his or her rhetoric and, more importantly, his or her values? Who will be brave, who will channel Jim Jeffords? 

In 1995, I had a brief encounter with Jeffords. I was on my first trip to Washington D. C. as a citizen, to appeal to members of Congress to defeat an anti-wilderness bill that would devastate public lands in my home state of Utah. My lobbying partner and fellow writer, Terry Tempest Williams, and I visited Jim Jeffords’s office. While delivering our book of essays about the values of Utah wilderness to a staffer, a man in a suit wandered by and started listening to us. He asked questions but did not introduce himself.

As we left, we asked him which position on the staff he filled. He said, with a smile, “I’m the senator.” Embarrassed and chagrined, we nonetheless asked if he would support us. He responded, “I’ll read your book, and I’ll think about it.”

We need more senators who, like Jeffords, commit themselves to fair-minded listening and thoughtful, informed decision-making. We need moral courage, too.

The Trump administration inflicts such damage to the environment that their actions go beyond policy differences and rise to the level of real harm to the planet. Withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement in the face of extreme weather supercharged by climate change endangers lives and whole cities. Propping up fossil fuels when the rest of the world is moving to clean energy hobbles corporate America. Kowtowing to a minority of angry western-states officials who demand local control over public lands and national monuments insults the clear will of the America people.

We need leaders who stand up to this president on these pressing issues and will take strategic action to stop a rogue leader who has acted far outside the bounds of civil society. The majority of American people want action. We are waiting for that one brave Jeffordsonian to step up and make history.

Stephen Trimble is the author of “Red Rock Stories: Three Generations of Writers Speak on Behalf of Utah Public Lands.” Trimble also serves on the board of Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, the "friends" organization for the monument.