Will Republicans protect Trump or U.S. democracy?

To impeach, or not to impeach? That is not the question.

At least it should not be the question of paramount importance for Democrats in the House of Representatives.

The louder alarm bells sounding from the report of special counsel Robert Mueller call attention to a more existential threat facing the republic. The 2016 presidential election was corrupted by the interference of the Russian government. It was a direct attack on our democracy.

How has America responded? No safeguards have been put in place by Homeland Security for the 2020 presidential election. No laws have been passed in Congress to protect against future election tampering by foreign governments.

Democrats are dithering over whether to forge ahead with what would surely be a vicious fight over impeachment hearings of President Donald Trump. They are weighing their desire to be rid of Trump against a political calculation that a move to impeach could hurt party chances in the 2020 election.

That line of thinking downplays the “sweeping and systematic” abuses of the Constitution that Mueller found in Russia’s meddling.

Although Mueller detailed numerous contacts and the sharing of information between Trump campaign staffers and Russian agents of President Vladimir Putin, none of that is criminal under current law. Wrong and unpatriotic, but not criminal.

Mueller's investigation did not establish coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, which would be criminal.

The special counsel also uncovered 10 instances where the president interfered with Mueller’s investigation, in other words obstructed jutice. But the special counsel concluded it was not his role to make a finding of wrongdoing, tossing that to Congress.

Mueller did conclude that “Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.” With those words he essentially lobbied Congress to pass laws to prevent this from happening again.

The highest priority for Congress should be passing legislation that addresses the national security vulnerabilities detailed in Mueller’s findings. Democrats and Republicans must put patriotism above politics to protect our elections and democratic institutions.

Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin wrote an excellent column that appeared in The Day outlining legislative steps to safeguard against election abuses. Among her recommendations:

  • Make it illegal for political candidates to share polling data and campaign strategy with foreign governments.
  • Require political candidates to report to law enforcement any inappropriate contact from a foreign government. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced such a bill Tuesday. The “Duty to Report Act” would mandate that federal candidates, campaigns and political action committees must report any “offers of assistance” from foreign agents to both the Federal Election Commission and the FBI.
  • Specifically outlaw actions taken by presidents or other high-ranking government officials to interfere with law enforcement investigations in which they have a personal interest.
  • Provide federal funding and guidelines to upgrade voting machines across the country to protect against electronic tampering.

Congress has a duty to explore potential wrongdoing by the president. Since the Republican Senate has no interest in fullfilling that constitutional role, it falls to the Democratic House. So investigations by various House committees should continue.

However, by prioritizing legislative remedies to safeguard elections, House Democrats can achieve something proactive that helps the nation and is also good politics.

Election safeguard legislation puts congressional Republicans in a tight situation. If they vote in favor of the legislation, Republicans would be acknowledging that Trump’s behavior was wrong. If they vote against the legislation, it puts them on the record supporting foreign interference in elections and obstructing law enforcement investigations.

On impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is right to encourage caution. She knows an impeachment battle would plunge the Congress and the country into a bitter partisan brawl. Pelosi can interpret poll numbers. With only 37 percent of the country favoring impeachment, Democrats run the risk of alienating many voters in 2020 if they proceed.

Even if the House votes to impeach Trump, there is little chance the Senate, with a 53-member Republican majority, would find the president guilty. To oust Trump, 66 senators must vote for removal.

The better path is focusing on corrective legislation that protects against future abuses. With his proposed bill, Blumenthal recognizes the importance of protecting our democracy from foreign meddling. We urge our congressman, Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney, and Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut's junior Democratic senator, to champion such legislation.

The Mueller report exposed crimes against American democracy. Congress must act swiftly to enact new laws that protect the integrity of our election process.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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