Congressional Republicans shrug following Trump World indictments

Image: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan hosts press conference following a Republican caucus meeting
epa06015091 Speaker of the House Paul Ryan listens to remarks during a press conference that followed a Republican caucus meeting in the US Capitol in...

Imagine a hypothetical. Let's say a tiny number of progressive votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania went Democratic a year ago and Hillary Clinton were president right now.

Let's also say, in this hypothetical scenario, nine months into her presidency, Hillary Clinton was unpopular in ways with no historical parallel, and her political operation was the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, suspected of cooperating with a foreign adversary's espionage operation, which was launched to help put her in the White House.

Then imagine, nine months into her first term, Clinton's former campaign chairman is indicted and one of her former foreign policy advisers pleads guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with the aforementioned foreign adversary.

What do you suppose congressional Republicans would say under those circumstances?

The point, obviously, is that GOP lawmakers were confronted yesterday with exactly these circumstances, except it's Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton, who's in office. And while it's safe to assume Republicans would have hair-on-fire reactions to Clinton World indictments, they managed to offer a collective shrug yesterday afternoon in response to Trump World indictments.

"That really isn't our job," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Ky.) told reporters, when asked about the criminal charges brought against members of Trump's campaign team. "That's not our wheelhouse." The top Republican in the House was similarly disinterested.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Monday said charges brought against members of President Donald Trump's campaign are not going to have any effect on Congress."I really don't have anything to add, other than: Nothing is going to derail what we're doing in Congress," Ryan said on conservative Wisconsin talk radio station WTAQ.

What they're "doing in Congress," of course, is pursuing massive tax cuts -- which for Ryan and his allies, have to remain the party's principal focus.

If that means averting their gaze, pretending not to notice the crisis overwhelming their own party's president, so be it.

This often goes overlooked, but in all likelihood, congressional Republicans have no idea what it is Trump World may have done, and by all appearances, they don't much care. As Vox's Matt Yglesias noted last night, the "crazy thing about this situation" is that GOP leaders "have no idea what it is they're really covering up."

Alas, this isn't new. Over the summer, when we learned that top Trump campaign officials hosted a private meeting in the hopes of obtaining anti-Clinton dirt from Russia, congressional Republicans shrugged then, too.

As we discussed at the time, many observers keep waiting for the moment at which the bow breaks. There's an apparent expectation that there's a cumulative effect to Trump's troubles, and at a certain, undetermined point, congressional Republicans will feel compelled to pull their support and put his presidency in peril.

But this point almost certainly doesn't exist. Most GOP lawmakers are comfortable with the idea of Trump and his team facing consequences for their actions, so long as Congress has nothing to do with the process.

I'm reminded of something the New York Times' David Leonhardt wrote in February.

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.

Are tax cuts really worth it? For GOP officials, the answer still appears be yes.