In the wake of a stunning news conference in which Donald Trump kowtowed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the president is now walking back his pro-Russia remarks and claiming he believes that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
But in my view, the damage is done, and the focus must now turn to the GOP response.
The Republican Party has spent decades claiming that its attempts to restrict voting rights were all about maintaining the integrity of elections.
But now that the GOP's standard-bearer has shown himself unwilling to confront Putin over Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, the Republican stance on voting rights has been exposed. If the Republican Party does not strongly condemn Russian interference with our elections — and Trump's condoning of it — then all its talk about election integrity has been pure hypocrisy.
According to the GOP, gutting the Voting Rights Act and the push for voter ID laws have been about the all-important integrity of our elections — and not about keeping people of color and young people who are more likely to vote Democrat away from the polls. But if Republicans truly believe that, then they will take action against President Trump and the Russian interference in the 2016 election.
On Monday, Trump said: "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today." This statement was particularly stunning, given that 17 U.S. spy agencies concluded that Russian interference was a certainty.
Though he later changed his stance, Trump wasn't concerned about election integrity when he spoke at Monday's news conference. He seemed more concerned with showing deference to Russia by spreading blame to America.
I think we're all to blame, too. We have to take the blame because America didn't carefully consider the threat posed by a Donald Trump presidency, and in doing so, we all played the fool.
Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) says that the president's actions at Monday's news conference with Putin were inexcusable and that while several Republicans issued statements renouncing Trump's words, that's not good enough.
"It's not enough to have statements," Casey told me in an interview. "Statements only last an hour or two. We need action by way of a resolution, by way of asking questions, and the committees of jurisdiction have to do their oversight. That means the Foreign Relations Committee, the Intelligence Committee, and any other committee that feels that there's a relevant set of questions to ask administration officials. And I hope — and I don't have a lot of confidence — I hope people within the administration — as much privately as publicly — would stand up to the president."
At this moment in America, we now need truth from a Republican Party that used every tool at its disposal, including racial resentment, to give us Donald Trump.
Racial resentment helped the GOP to ratchet up the fight to keep brown immigrants from coming into the country. Racial resentment helped it to use gerrymandering as a tool to dilute the power of black and brown voters. Racial resentment helped it to successfully push voter-suppression tactics such as voter ID.
But if the Republicans are to be believed when they claim that the push to stop black and brown people from voting was about the integrity of elections, this is the moment when they can prove it.
Republican leadership, like all of us, is keenly aware that Russian interference in the presidential election did more than help Donald Trump. It helped the entire Republican Party by handing it the White House.
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The GOP must own that fact. Then it must fight as hard to keep Russians out of our elections as it does to keep black and brown people out of the voting booth.
That's the only way I'll ever believe that the Republican Party is an entity concerned with the integrity of American elections, and not just an organization driven by racism.