Some Republican senators have begun to shed their reluctance to criticize the presidency of Donald Trump. When Congress returns from its August recess, they’ll have the chance to do something about it.
Only Congress and the courts have the constitutional power to constrain an executive. The courts have been performing their assigned role, placing constitutional barriers in the way of demagogic campaign promises becoming law.
Congress, under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has not been completely AWOL. Sanctions on Russia, for example, imposed over the objections of a president who routinely validates the criminal regime of Vladimir Putin, showed how Congress can properly fulfill its obligations. But the Trump presidency requires Congress to exercise a much higher degree of oversight.
This is a political challenge for Republican leaders. It is not, however, a constitutional challenge. McConnell and Ryan have broad powers to influence a rogue executive, both publicly and privately. To take just one example, the issue of presidential emoluments is of great interest to good-government types and a sensitive issue for the White House. Trump’s practice of profiting from public office through his Washington hotel and other commercial properties raises profound ethical and constitutional questions.
This is an ideal opportunity for Congress to air the issues and investigate the facts. It has not done so. If McConnell and Ryan are uninterested in ethics, they could at least use the interest of others as leverage over the White House.