In April, Donald Trump hosted a dinner with Republican congressional leaders, who tried to deliver a stern warning to the president about the 2018 midterm elections. They were concerned about the party’s hold on congressional power, and as the New York Times reported, GOP leaders feared Trump did not “grasp the gravity” of the situation.
If [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s] warning was not clear enough, Marc Short, the White House’s legislative liaison, used the dinner to offer an even starker assessment. The G.O.P.’s House majority is all but doomed, he said.
But Mr. Trump was not moved. “That’s not going to happen,” he said.
That’s exactly what happened.
If his tweets this morning are any indication, the president appears to be taking a victory lap, due entirely to the fact that Republicans, taking advantage of the most favorable Senate map in American history, expanded their majority in the upper chamber. Trump, at least publicly, considers this year’s midterms a “tremendous success” and a “big victory” for the GOP.
Whether or not he genuinely believes this is unclear, but if the president is feeling some optimism in the wake of the results, he’s kidding himself.
To the extent that the White House has a legislative agenda, it is now effectively dead. Making matters worse, rejecting Trump’s far-right proposals isn’t the only way the new Democratic majority in the House is going to make Trump quite miserable.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent explained last month, “The basic bargain Republicans have made with the president is that he will keep delivering them right-wing judges and signing bills slashing taxes on the rich and eviscerating the social safety net, so long as Republicans maintain fortress-like protection of Trump from oversight and accountability.”
The American electorate has severed that deal. The fortress is suddenly missing a wall.
In May, outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) warned that Democrats might try to hold the president accountable, complete with hearings and subpoenas, if they were rewarded with a majority. On this, he was correct. Soon after, Axios published a list that meticulously previewed “the investigations Democrats will likely launch if they flip the House.” It included, among other things, scrutiny of Trump’s tax returns.
Had the race for the House gone the other way, that list would’ve gathered dust. It will now instead serve as a blueprint.
What’s more, the outgoing GOP majority actually made this dynamic worse. As Politico reported two weeks ago, House Republicans changed the chamber’s rules in 2015, allowing committee chairs to issue subpoenas unilaterally, without even consulting the minority party.
“The Republicans have set the standard and, by God, we’re going to emulate that standard,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told Politico.
All of which suggests Trump’s free ride is poised to come to an abrupt halt. The president, who’s never been altogether familiar with how governmental institutions work, probably doesn’t realize how good he’s had it. The lesson will likely be brutal.
Postscript: It’s not yet clear how Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russia scandal will proceed, or whether there will be a report on his findings. But if there is such a document, it’ll likely be delivered to Congress.
Under a Republican-led House, that report would be buried and ignored. In a Democratic-led House, that report will almost certainly be shared with the public and acted upon.