By Ben Cardin and Dianne Feinstein | December 8th, 2016
President Obama is right — if President-elect Donald Trump succeeds, America succeeds. But the opposite is equally true. The costs of a failed Trump presidency would be profound for the security of the United States and countries around the world.
With each passing day, we grow increasingly concerned that President-elect Trump fails to grasp the solemn, serious responsibilities that come with being our nation’s commander in chief. Protecting and advancing our national security interests is arguably the president’s most important duty.
As elected representatives of a separate and co-equal branch of government, we are honor-bound by our oaths to protect and defend the Constitution. We will also offer our advice and opinions to the president and share these views with the American people, particularly when it concerns our national security. And there is much to be concerned about.
First, Donald J. Trump will pledge to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States when he takes the oath of office on Jan. 20. But by any objective measure, the president-elect is on a collision course with the Constitution, which states that federal office holders cannot receive monetary gifts or otherwise financially benefit from foreign governments or affiliates.
But Trump’s company and its many dealings stand in direct conflict with this prohibition. Trump has announced he will address his future with his business empire next week, and we expect nothing less than an utterly clear, concrete, black-and-white decision that prevents any actual or perceived conflict with the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
Second, Trump is treating the Secretary of State nomination like a reality television show.
When it comes to the selection of our nation’s chief diplomat, we expect Trump to nominate someone who possesses unquestioned expertise, experience and judgment — not a political loyalist or ideological firebrand, characteristics of many of the individuals already surrounding the president-elect.
Finally, we have been alarmed by the cavalier manner in which the president-elect appears to be approaching his initial interactions with foreign heads of state and other political leaders, potentially setting the stage for multiple diplomatic crises that could easily escalate.
In his calls with foreign leaders, President-elect Trump has unnerved our partners, raised questions about U.S. commitments and even reportedly expressed tacit support for extrajudicial killings. Moreover, in preparing for these conversations he has ignored experts in U.S. intelligence agencies and the State Department.
Indeed, we find it particularly troubling that President-elect Trump has mostly declined to take the daily intelligence briefing. Presidents and presidents-elect going back decades have begun their day this way — understanding national security threats and opportunities, asking probing questions, and making tough decisions.
The information and analysis that our intelligence community provides to decision-makers is invaluable for developing a full and nuanced picture of the world.
Candidate Trump’s comments on an array of foreign policy issues were disturbing at best and frightening at worst. This conduct cannot become the norm.
At stake is America’s role as a global superpower: building coalitions, fostering development, combating disease, fighting terrorism, upholding democratic institutions and values, and filling leadership voids where other nations come up short.
We do not yet know how President-elect Trump will treat these issues once he occupies the Oval Office, but we have little optimism at this time based on what he has presented thus far.
Provocative tweets might satisfy a political base, but they do nothing to advance the national security interests of the United States. On the contrary, such missives could lead to serious misunderstandings with our allies and potential conflicts with our adversaries.
We are committed to working with the new administration where we can, and we will stand in opposition when we must. Doing so fulfills the very checks and balances our Founding Fathers envisioned nearly 250 years ago.
Congress has an important role to play in ensuring that the values that have animated and protected our nation since its founding continue to flourish, and that we continue the never-ending work of perfecting our union.
It is in that spirit that we offer our advice to the president-elect today. We would do him no service by pulling punches, staying silent or offering platitudes.
Donald Trump has undertaken an awesome task and responsibility, and he must now lead by example. We therefore owe it to him, and to the nation, to demand that when it comes to America’s national security imperatives, he take his new job more seriously.
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland is the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is the top Democrat on the Select Committee on Intelligence.