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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Former Sen. Al D’Amato on ‘perilous times’

One New Yorker in The Washington Post’s senatorial letter.

One New Yorker in The Washington Post's senatorial

One New Yorker in The Washington Post's senatorial letter. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A bipartisan group of 44 former U.S. senators wrote a short but foreboding op-ed to the Senate in The Washington Post this week, warning about a “dangerous period” coming for the country: “We feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security.”

The time peg for the politicians? The endgame of Robert Mueller’s investigation and beginning of House investigations into President Donald Trump and his administration.

The lone New Yorker to sign the piece was former New York Sen. Al D’Amato, one of only 10 Republicans to do so alongside prominent Democrats like former Sens. Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, and John Kerry.

D’Amato, a Long Islander who served as senator for close to two decades before losing to Chuck Schumer, is more recently the founder of a lobbying shop and last year had an epiphany about medical marijuana.

What moved the Republican to go into elder statesman mode?

D’Amato was once known for a sharp tongue, as when he called Schumer a “putzhead.” But reached by phone Tuesday, D’Amato says he is “tired of seeing the bitter partisanship” in the country.

He says former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) reached out to him with a copy of the op-ed.

He didn’t edit the piece because of the large number of people who had to sign off on it. The final version of the op-ed does not urge specific action and includes vague statements about upholding the institutions of democracy.

D’Amato, however, offered some verbal specifics for both sides to heed.

He urged Democrats to close elements of “catch and release” in our immigration system, and told Republicans to embrace prison reform, some gun control and a solution for DACA recipients. Those would be the kinds of moves that would put country over party, says D’Amato, rather than just showboating and lobbing potshots at the other side.

On that front, D’Amato says the chaotic Oval Office meeting Tuesday between Trump and Democratic leaders Schumer and Nancy Pelosi was “absolute absurdity.”

He places blame for that absurdity on both sides.

The “both sides” equanimity feels a little more one-sided when it comes to the high, dramatic questions of law and order and capital-D Democracy alluded to in The Washington Post op-ed.

Democrats should not go after impeachment of Trump if investigations don’t show real cause, says the former senator who happily supported Trump during the 2016 campaign, after originally endorsing Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Maybe it’s no wonder, then, that the august body of former senators couldn’t come to a more specific bottom line than “we urge current and future senators to be steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest.”

“These are perilous times,” D’Amato offered. Read that as you will.

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