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GOP officials may rebuke Trump, but they keep voting with him

Congressional Republicans are comfortable occasionally criticizing Donald Trump, but they haven't stopped voting with him.
Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump (C) celebrates with Congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of Representatives approved...

When Donald Trump throws a Twitter tantrum, Republican officials have a few standard responses. Some say they have a policy not to comment on tweets, as if official presidential statements somehow don't count if they appear in 140-character increments. Others shrug their shoulders at Trump's online missives, celebrating his status as a "non-traditional" president.

But when Trump pushes the boundaries of decency past the breaking point, as he did last week, many GOP officials will dutifully rebuke their fellow Republican, earning plaudits from pundits for taking a stand in support of basic norms of decorum.

What they will not do, however, is take any meaningful or substantive actions. The Washington Post's Alexandra Petri had a great tongue-in-cheek piece on this the other day.

I stand with my colleagues in Congress to say: The president's tweet is beneath the dignity of the office.This is not making America great.The president has at last done the unthinkable: He has insulted a morning television personality in crude and ghastly terms and I must -- in consequence of this hideous and vile breach of the dignity of the office -- withdraw none of my support from his legislative agenda.

Halfway through Donald Trump's first year as America's improbable president, the extent to which congressional Republicans vote in line with the White House's preferences is striking.

FiveThirtyEight keeps a running tally of how often every member of Congress votes with or against the president's position, and using that data, I put together a couple of pie charts that help drive the partisan point home. Let's start with Senate Republicans: the red part of the chart points to the GOP senators who vote with Trump's position at least 95% of the time.

And here's the same chart, this time for House Republicans.

To be sure, when the president uses vile and abusive language, it's reassuring to see him face bipartisan rebukes. But mild criticisms of a Republican president from GOP lawmakers aren't a meaningful consequence, and don't constitute Trump paying a price for his behavior. Admonishments are nice, but so long as GOP officials continue to vote with Trump the overwhelming majority of the time, their criticisms ring hollow and the president won't have any incentive to change direction.