Sunday, February 28, 2021
Feb. 28, 2021

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Jayne: GOP should heed Gorton’s words


He is 91 now, decades removed from politics. But with former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton presenting a thoughtful opinion piece in the New York Times last week, I am reminded of the time he visited The Columbian’s Editorial Board.

It was three years ago, and Gorton had some prescient thoughts about the presidential election that was underway.

“Trump wants to make a deal. He talks about how well he is at making deals. But Trump’s definition of a deal is, ‘I win, you lose;’ it’s a zero-sum game,” Gorton said in May 2016. “But the deals the president of the United States makes aren’t like that. With a really good deal, both sides benefit.”

Sounds insightful. Trump has spent his presidency tearing down international relationships and violating the Emoluments Clause. And for anybody who insists Trump is working for the good of the United States rather than his personal interests, we ask one simple question: What in the world are Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner doing in the White House?

Not that Gorton was enamored with Hillary Clinton. The Democratic nominee, he said, “has no guiding philosophy except what’s good for the Clinton family.”

Like we said, Gorton is insightful.

Which brings up the op-ed he wrote under the headline, “My Fellow Republicans, Please Follow the Facts.” It is about the impeachment hearings surrounding Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, and it cut through a lot of the rhetoric on both sides of the issue.

“To my fellow Republicans, I give this grave and genuine warning: It’s not enough merely to dismiss the Ukraine investigation as a partisan witch hunt or to hide behind attacks against the ‘deep state,’ or to try to find some reason to denounce every witness who steps forward, from decorated veterans to Trump megadonors,” Gorton wrote.

“History demands that we all wrestle with the facts at hand. They are unavoidable. Fifty years from now, history will not accept the position that impeachment was a referendum on the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. It must be a verdict reached on the facts.”

Well said. Of course, partisans on both sides have found cause to disagree on what those facts mean, and those partisans never will reach unanimity. But Gorton’s recommendation of following the facts is preferable to the approach embraced by most Republicans in Congress.

Take Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground. When the Democratic-led House of Representatives voted to launch an impeachment investigation, Herrera Beutler echoed her party’s complaints about the process rather than expressing a desire to get to the truth. It was, frankly, shameful. And it was exactly the head-in-the-sand partisanship that Gorton is warning us about.

“Make no mistake: This is precisely the kind of crisis Alexander Hamilton feared,” Gorton writes. “In Federalist No. 75, he warned that a president might be tempted to betray the interests of the country for his own benefit, ‘to sacrifice his duty to his interest, which it would require superlative virtue to withstand’; that ‘an avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth’; that a president might ‘make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents.’

“Given the temptations a president might have in dealing with foreign powers, Hamilton’s solution was equally clear: Congress should be involved.”

Sacrifice his duty? Avaricious? Aggrandizement? It’s almost as if Hamilton knew Trump personally.

All of which has brought us to impeachment hearings, with witnesses testifying that the president withheld military aid for Ukraine while seeking a political investigation for his own benefit. All of which has led a former U.S. senator to write to members of his own party, “Don’t fight the process, follow the facts wherever they lead, and put country above party.”

That sounds as if Slade Gorton remains prescient after all these years.