Andy Harris won his last election in Maryland’s 1st District by 67,000 votes. You would think that impressive victory and four previous ones would give the Republican congressman enough confidence to express independent thoughts now and then, maybe even stand on principle once in a while. But Harris is either so insecure or lacking conscience that he could not bring himself to join 129 other Republicans on Wednesday in rebuking President Trump for the withdrawal of troops from Syria.
Trump’s impulsive action might have led to unnecessary bloodshed. It might have been a craven or mindless betrayal of a recent ally in a costly but important fight against terrorism. It might have sent the abandoned Kurds to our rivals for help. It might represent victory for dictators in Damascus and Moscow, might unleash new terrorism, might give Iran confidence to expand its influence in the region. It might be a demoralizing, infuriating blow to American troops who fought with the Kurds against ISIS, then helped maintain a fragile peace in northeastern Syria.
It might represent all of those things, but Andy Harris would not budge in his no-matter-what support of Trump.
The vote in the House of Representatives on a joint resolution to criticize the president’s horrible decision in Syria was 354-60, a rare and stunning display of bipartisanship, with Republicans voting by a 2-1 margin to join Democrats in the rebuke. Harris was with the 60 Republicans who apparently see no problem with what Trump did, subjecting the Kurds to attacks by Turkey, destabilizing an entire region in a way that empowers Syria, Russia and Iran, and likely gives ISIS opportunity for a new start.
If Harris can’t break from Trump over an egregious action with such bloody consequences, then it will never happen. In this test of independence and integrity, he failed.
“Do I wish [Trump] were more politically correct at times? Yes,” Harris offered constituents at a town hall Monday evening on the Eastern Shore. “But there are people who like it, and Americans elected him.”
Did you get that? In the Andy Harris version of the Constitution, Congress does nothing to check the power of the president because people like him. Therefore, you don’t criticize him, even when his erratic actions cause death. And you certainly don’t get all impeachy just because the president tries to shake down a foreign leader for dirt on a political rival. What’s wrong with that anyway?
Indeed, on the matter of Trump’s July phone call to the new president of Ukraine, now the subject of a House impeachment inquiry, Andy Harris mounts a high horse to defend his beleaguered king. The other day, on the House floor, he likened the inquiry to “kangaroo courts,” a “star chamber,” and “Soviet-style secret trials.” (Note to Andy: An inquiry is an investigation, not a trial.)
“It seems when I came to work this week, I was coming to Moscow or Beijing, Pyongyang or Havana, not the capital of the free world, where we treasure fairness,” Harris said, incredulous that House Democrats are interviewing witnesses about Ukraine behind closed doors. Harris complained that he was not allowed to listen to testimony of the dutiful diplomats who have come forward to testify about the efforts of Trump operatives, led by Rudy Giuliani, to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, potentially the president’s Democratic opponent in 2020, and Biden’s son, Hunter.
In a town hall in Berlin, a woman asked Harris if he would have taken “opposition research” about a political rival from a foreign government, a reference to the allegation that Trump pressured the Ukraine president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Hunter Biden’s lucrative association with Ukraine’s largest gas company. At the time of Trump’s phone call, Ukraine was scheduled to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid authorized by Congress.
“I don’t think anything was done wrong in the Zelensky phone call,” Harris said, before counterpunching with a Biden smear that Republicans have used to defend Trump: “If I had someone running in a race who had gone and bragged about a $1 billion quid pro quo, getting a prosecutor fired who was in charge of potentially investigating his son’s company . . .”
“We know that’s incorrect,” the woman at the town hall said.
But Harris repeated the allegation, never mind that it has been widely debunked.
It’s true that, as vice-president, Joe Biden had threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees unless Ukraine ousted its prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin. But it was not for the sleazy reasons Harris and other Republicans assert. They want you to believe Biden was trying to take pressure off a company that had recruited his son as a board member. That’s not what happened.
In 2015 and 2016, Biden, along with some European leaders, pressed for Shokin’s firing because he had proven a failure at rooting out political corruption in Ukraine. In fact, without pressure from Joe Biden, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, Shokin would have remained in office. Among those who confirmed that fact was Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre in Kiev.
Hunter Biden’s association with Ukraine’s largest gas company came after a period when it was under investigation, according to another prosecutor general, Yuri Lutsenko. “From the perspective of Ukrainian legislation, [Hunter Biden] did not violate anything,” Lutsenko told The Washington Post last month.
At the town hall in Berlin, the woman pressed Harris on foreign interference in a U.S. election: Did he think it was OK to ask a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a domestic political rival?
“If it was a corruption investigation for which my opponent had bragged about,” Harris answered, “I would say yes.”
So, there you go. It’s OK to invite a foreign power to interfere in a U.S. election. It’s OK to betray and abandon an ally. Andy Harris and Donald Trump — great minds think alike.