Congress can't rein in executive branch abuses without Republicans. Will they step up?

·3 min read

When you find cracks in your foundation, you have two choices. Plaster over the evidence or build new supports to prevent catastrophe. But with fresh cracks in the foundation of our republic, extremist elements in the GOP are hoping to obscure the problem rather than fix it.

This is especially true when it comes to two pressing issues: reining in executive power and defending voting rights.

In the first case, years of executive branch abuses have eroded whistleblower protections, undermined congressional oversight, enabled corruption and, ultimately, led to a violent attack designed to overturn an election. In the second case, rampant efforts to rewrite voting laws threaten to corrode the democratic process itself.

As Republican former members of Congress and advisers to the Renew America Movement, we believe that current Republican leaders would help themselves and the country by working to solve these issues in a bipartisan fashion – and there are obvious opportunities to do so.

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Bipartisan efforts to save our country

For instance, legislators recently introduced the Protecting Our Democracy Act (PODA), a broad slate of reasonable reforms that would strengthen institutional guardrails to prevent future abuses of executive power, something that should speak directly to the constitutional conservative’s heart.

In fact, that’s precisely why many of the individual proposals in PODA have previously enjoyed bipartisan support.

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A voting rights activist demonstrates near the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 14.
A voting rights activist demonstrates near the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 14.

In 2019, for example, Republicans advanced legislation to rein in presidential emergency declaration powers, until then-President Donald Trump killed the attempt. A similar proposal in PODA would revive that effort.

Similarly, a range of commonsense proposals have surfaced in Congress to prevent meddling with Americans’ voting rights, including bills that would end partisan gerrymandering, standardize voter ID requirements, require voter-verified paper ballots to make auditing elections more transparent, and protect election workers. These reforms would benefit as many people in red states as they would in blue states.

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And yet, both PODA and recently introduced voting rights legislation have few Republican champions. Why? Because party leaders have politicized these issues at the behest of a certain former president, who still haunts their deliberations on virtually every issue – and who wants the deck stacked in his favor for a planned return to power in 2024.

But principled Republicans should recognize that zero-sum power games are destructive to our politics and the Constitution.

If they don’t act, they will miss a fleeting opportunity to do what conservatives have long sought to do: Reinforce congressional authority and check the excesses of the presidency to prevent the encroachment of the ever-powerful executive our Founders feared.

Now more than ever, we need reform

Democrats have long taken an expansive view of executive power in order to fulfill their visions of social change, so it is rare to have so many who are prepared to curb those powers, especially while they have the White House.

Much like the post-Nixon era, the political environment is ripe for bipartisan reform. Republicans in Congress should seize this moment to better safeguard our republic in ways they’ve been seeking to do for many years – by reaching across the aisle.

People line up to vote in Sparks, Nev., in November 2020.
People line up to vote in Sparks, Nev., in November 2020.

If we fail to capture this energy now, the moment will be lost, and the degradation of our constitutional checks will continue until they are lost entirely, or until we are again shocked out of complacency by a new president out of control.

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Either way, the next warning may not come in time, and the political will to protect the Constitution might not be as strong. This era will go down as a moment of inflection for American democracy. Republicans in Congress need to decide now, will they be part of the devolution of our democracy, or be part of the strengthening of our democracy? The onus is on them.

Reid Ribble (@RepRibble) is a former representative for Wisconsin's 8th Congressional District. Charles Djou (@Djou4Hawaii) is a former representative for Hawaii's 1st District. Claudine Schneider (@TimeforClaudine) is a former representative for Rhode Island's 2nd District. Jim Kolbe is a former representative for Arizona's 5th District.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Reforming voting rights, executive power require Republican support.

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