WASHINGTON — How much more of this can we take?
That is the question Congress must now confront. How much more of the Trump administration's lawlessness, incompetence and corruption must the nation endure? If President Trump serves the full 15 months that remain in his term of office, how bad will the damage be? For the good of the country and the world, is it imperative that Trump be removed as quickly as possible?
These queries may all seem moot, given the political arithmetic of the Senate. But a few months ago, you should recall, impeachment by the House seemed impossible; now, it looks inevitable. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was never going to head down that road unless Trump did something so outrageous and transgressive as to force her hand. He did just that.
So yes, it seems inconceivable that 20 Republican senators would ever vote to remove a president who could, and would, do everything in his considerable power to destroy their political careers. But if there is one thing we have learned in the four years since Trump descended the escalator and announced his candidacy, "impossible" things do indeed happen.
As a recent example, who could have imagined that the United States would abandon its Kurdish allies in Syria? In a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump agreed to have U.S. troops stand aside while Turkey sent its army across the border to wipe out the Kurdish forces that fought the Islamic State on our behalf. Erdogan promptly launched the invasion, which is ongoing. We are in the process of betraying loyal allies whom we promised to protect.
The chorus of outrage from Republicans in Congress that we're hearing now is unprecedented in the Trump era. It can be seen as heartening, I suppose, but I find it infuriating. Those senators knew all along that Trump was unfit to serve as commander in chief. They knew that he made decisions on a whim, that he had no moral compass, that he believed loyalty was something always received but never given. "They didn't help us in the Second World War," Trump said dismissively of the Kurds. "They didn't help us with Normandy."
Trump's newly minted GOP critics should have known that his glaring flaws would have awful, real-world consequences. They were more concerned, however, with putting anti-abortion judges on the federal bench and getting themselves reelected. Now they have to watch as Erdogan, with Trump's blessing, carries out a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing.
"Damage to our reputation & national interest will be extraordinary & long lasting," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted. Gee, I wish he was in a position to do something about it.
If this tragic spectacle does not cause the scales to fall from at least 20 senators' eyes, I'd suggest they read the letter from Trump's White House counsel declaring the intention to defy the Constitution and refuse to provide documents and witnesses to the House.
As a legal argument, the letter is no argument at all. But as a window into the madness that is the Trump White House, it is fascinating. "You seek to overturn the results of the 2016 election and deprive the American people of the President they have freely chosen," it states, speaking of Trump almost as if he were some essential dietary nutrient. The letter goes on to tout, among other things, economic progress that took place mostly under the administration of Barack Obama.
Trump seems to understand that at this point it is very likely that the House will impeach him, meaning his top priority has to be keeping Senate Republicans in line. I doubt he anticipated the pushback he's getting on the Kurds, because, well, Normandy, or something. And I wonder if the criticism from what he assumed were friendly quarters might have taken him aback.
When Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, slammed the president over his Ukraine shakedown — the offense that virtually guaranteed impeachment — Trump blasted him with both barrels on Twitter. But the president fired just a handful of quick salvos, not the usual sustained barrage. Perhaps he realizes that relentless attacks against a Republican senator, designed to hurt his political standing at home, might not go over so well with other Republican senators.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should think about what's best for the nation. If that's too much to ask, and I fear it is, senators had better think about what's best for themselves. Trump could end up forcing their hand the way he forced Pelosi's.
Eugene Robinson's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.