A single courageous senator can derail the Trump administration

A single courageous senator can derail the Trump administration
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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.

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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 McCainJuan Williams: Time for boldness from Biden Democrats lead in three battleground Senate races: poll Republican Scott Taylor wins Virginia primary, to face Elaine Luria in rematch 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 Trump Trump responds to calls to tear down monuments with creation of 'National Garden' of statues Trump: Children are taught in school to 'hate their own country' Trump accuses those tearing down statues of wanting to 'overthrow the American Revolution' 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 Coronavirus Report: Stagwell President Mark Penn says Trump is losing on fighting the virus; Fauci says U.S. 'going in the wrong direction' in fight against virus GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday Senate passes extension of application deadline for PPP small-business loans MORE (R-Maine). Two Democratic senators rank to the right of Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators will have access to intelligence on Russian bounties on US troops Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Senators push to limit transfer of military-grade equipment to police MORE (R-Alaska). Even such GOP stalwarts as Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' report | Climate change erases millennia of cooling: study | Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget Doug Jones cuts pro-mask campaign ad: 'Our health depends on each other' MORE (R-Tenn.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic proposal to extend 0 unemployment checks Senate Democrats offer plan to extend added jobless benefits during pandemic Senators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls MORE (R-Ohio), and Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents Beijing: US 'oppressing Chinese companies' after Huawei, ZTE action Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties 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 KingMcConnell on filibuster talk: Democrats want to 'vandalize' Senate rules Manchin draws line against repealing legislative filibuster Filibuster reform gains steam with Democrats 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.