House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sits in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 19, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Congress’ oversight of the White House is put on indefinite hold

Updated
The Atlantic’s David Frum, lamenting the “ominous indicators of a breakdown of the American political system,” recently noted that raw partisanship has led to a collapse in congressional oversight of the executive branch. “Congress has increasingly become a check only on presidents of the opposite party,” Frum wrote.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) seems a little too eager to prove the thesis correct. TPM reported yesterday:
House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said Wednesday that he doesn’t think President Donald Trump’s tweet attacking department store Nordstrom for dropping his daughter Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessories line is “a big deal.”

“Is it appropriate, do you believe, is it ethical – and you oversee the executive branch of the government – for the President to be commenting about his daughter’s business like this?” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Chaffetz.

“I think most people can relate to the fact that a father, a doting father with very successful children is going to look after those children and, you know, if he sees something going wrong, he’s going to call it out,” Chaffetz said. He said that he doesn’t “pay much attention to it.”
The chairman of the Oversight Committee went on to compare Trump’s comments yesterday about Nordstrom to elected officials giving their opinions on the Super Bowl and “which hamburgers they like.”

It’s hard to imagine Chaffetz actually believing his own rhetoric. The president went on the offensive against an American company for no longer selling his daughter’s merchandise, effectively using his powerful platform to interfere in his daughter’s retailing opportunities. This bears little resemblance to tweets about someone’s lunch preferences.

If this were Hillary Clinton’s administration, is there any doubt the Oversight Committee would’ve scheduled hearings before close of business yesterday? [Update: See below.]

Indeed, when Kellyanne Conway used her official position to endorse Ivanka Trump’s product line on national television this morning – in apparent violation of the law – she did so with the comfort that Jason Chaffetz seems prepared to look the other way no matter what White House officials do.

He hasn’t even been subtle about it. When Team Trump considered getting rid of inspectors general through the administration, Chaffetz dismissed it as little more than a “mistake” from a low-level staffer. When the head of the Office of Government Ethics did his job in advising the White House, Chaffetz took an immediate interest – in targeting the ethics chief instead of the West Wing.

When Democrats asked the Oversight Committee to take a closer look at Trump’s conflicts of interest, the GOP chairman responded soon after that he remains interested in Hillary Clinton’s emails.

The Washington Post reported last week that Chaffetz’ committee has unveiled a list of 43 areas of interest to explore over the next two years, but the list “includes no planned inquiries into the Trump organization’s global entanglements and the potential for conflicts of interest.”

The New York Times’ David Leonhardt made the case for alarm yesterday:
This combination – an anti-democratic president and a quiescent Congress – is very dangerous. Even though many members of Congress think [Trump’s] approach is wrong, they have refused to confront him because he is a member of their party. He has the power to sign bills that Republican legislators have long favored, and their political fortunes are tied to his popularity.

So they look the other way. They duck questions about him, or they offer excuses. They enable him.
Vox’ Ezra Klein added, “[F]or now, the crucial question – the question on which much of American democracy hinges – is not what Trump does. It is what Congress does.”

And as we look to Chaffetz, the answer to the crucial question, apparently, is that Congress intends to do very little.

Update: Though Chaffetz has gone out of his way to avoid criticizing this White House since Inauguration Day, the Oversight Committee chairman changed direction this afternoon, saying Conway’s promotion of Ivanka Trump products was “unacceptable” and “clearly over the line.” A bipartisan letter is reportedly in the works, and it’s unclear if any additional actions are on the way.

Congress, Donald Trump, Jason Chaffetz and White House

Congress' oversight of the White House is put on indefinite hold

Updated