A GOP Congressman Breaks with Trump on His Way Out the Door

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Rep. John Shimkus got tough on Trump as he prepared to exit Congress.
Rep. John Shimkus got tough on Trump as he prepared to exit Congress. U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

I know this is going to hit you hard, but we're losing John Shimkus.

You know who John Shimkus is, don't you? OK, perhaps you don't. But you should, because this man has spent more than two decades not mattering to us much as a congressman from a district that includes metro-east portions of the St. Louis area. He hails from Collinsville, Illinois, which happens to sit closer to the Gateway Arch than Creve Coeur.

Shimkus got his fifteen minutes of quasi-fame October 10 with the announcement that he is not only resigning from Congress after twelve terms, but he's quitting Donald Trump, as well. That's saying something, because until that moment, he was co-chair of Trump's 2020 Illinois campaign (admittedly a rather symbolic post in one of the bluest of states).

It turns out that the first and last straw for Shimkus was Syria. The congressman was among dozens of Republican congressmen who — after being cool with Trump's bromances with Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and assorted dictators, and silent while he trashed NATO partners, Canada, Australia and the like — found their foreign-policy moral compass when Trump abandoned Kurdish allies whose countrymen had died fighting ISIS for us.

Shimkus did go much further than most of his colleagues in expressing his entirely justifiable indignation with Trump's latest assault on American foreign policy. Here's what he had to say regarding the Syrian debacle: "It's terrible. It's despicable," Shimkus told KMOX's Mark Reardon. "I'm heartbroken. In fact, I called my chief of staff in DC and said, 'Pull my name off the I Support Donald Trump list.' We have just stabbed our allies in the back.

"This has just shocked, embarrassed and angered me. President Trump is a populist who wants to put Americans first and to the detriment of our allies and friends. Some people in this country like that. I do not."

Shimkus didn't stop with the KMOX interview, issuing this statement later in the day: "While my votes will continue to support the President's domestic policy agenda, because of this terrible foreign policy decision I asked that my name be removed from his campaign's official list of supporters." That, of course, falls far short of any suggestion that Shimkus would support impeachment of the president in the House of Representatives, an endeavor that appears increasingly inevitable. Theoretically, Shimkus will be free to relocate and vote his conscience now that he's no longer seeking reelection. If and when impeachment hits the House floor, Shimkus will certainly be a lot more interesting to watch than he has been for the last couple of decades. Any Republican votes for impeachment would have considerable symbolic significance, at the very least, and retiring congressmen are likely to be the only ones on the GOP side with any appetite to join with Democrats.

I certainly wouldn't count on Shimkus' vote. He did, after all, speak out for Trump in the wake of the Access Hollywood scandal on the eve of the 2016 election, even as the predator was getting cut loose by fellow Republican members of Congress from the St. Louis area — including Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Ballwin) and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville). And Shimkus is the same guy who was among the loudest Trump cheerleaders on another foreign-policy abandonment: the administration's unforgivable withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

That might not ring a bell with casual followers of politics. But loyal, longtime readers of the RFT might at least vaguely remember Shimkus on the topic of climate change.

An enterprising, multi-second search of RFT archives did reveal that the mostly obscure Shimkus did appear on our pages once in the past decade, and in no small way, I might add. It turns out that on November 22, 2010, Shimkus earned the coveted "Ass Clown of the Week" award from the RFT. If we're going to lose this congressman — who has seldom hit the local media radar in a rank-and-file GOP career of strident 100 percent anti-abortion positions, a lifetime "A" rating from the NRA and the like — then we should at least memorialize his Trumpish weirdness on climate change.

Here's how the RFT's Chad Garrison reported the news of that day:

"The Republican from Collinsville, Illinois, was speaking before a subcommittee of Congress in March 2009 when he pulled out a Bible and read a passage from Genesis in which God promises not to destroy the world again after Noah's flood. At the end of the reading, Shimkus declared: 'The Earth will end only when God declares it's time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth ... I do believe that God's word is infallible. Unchanging. Perfect.'

"Yesterday, Shimkus defended his statement.

"'Put into context I was at a hearing in which there were two theologians who were testifying using scripture (that God would destroy the earth through global warming) so I also wanted to address scripture really directed at those two theologians,' Shimkus told KMOX.

"The congressman went on to inform KMOX that global warming could actually be a good thing — for the people of Greenland.

"'Those people would like to see climate change, I'm not being funny, they would like to see a little bit of climate change,' said Shimkus. 'There is already debate (in Greenland) about a northwest passage with cruise ships going there to look at the icebergs.'

"Gee, we hadn't thought about that. The opportunity to view icebergs from the deck of a Carnival cruise ship while wearing nothing but our swim trunks and flip flops is rather appealing!"

For some reason, I'm not seeing the same John Shimkus — even nine years later — mustering whatever it would take to vote to impeach Trump, no matter how obvious the high crimes and misdemeanors are shown to be. It's doubtful that Trump's betrayal of the Kurds, historic and hideous as it is, would be among the impeachment counts.

But stay tuned. An impeachment vote is coming, and Shimkus will matter when it does. Will he put country before party and do the patriotic thing with regard to exorcising Trump? Or will he hedge his bets, and support the president, in the event that Trump survives and tragically gets re-elected?

Mindful of that eerie scenario, Shimkus might want to keep open the possibility of kissing and making up with Trump. Given the track record that earned him RFT recognition, he'd make quite an ambassador to Greenland.

Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann and Jay Kanzler from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).

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