Congress' Republican majority has shown no interest in conducting oversight of Donald Trump's presidency, despite its many scandals and controversies. GOP leaders realize that if Democrats gain any power at all on Capitol Hill after next month's midterm elections, the White House will face the kind of scrutiny it's been able to avoid for two years.
And Republicans aren't making much of an effort to hide their fears about the possible consequences.
In May, for example, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) warned that Democrats might try to hold the president accountable, complete with hearings and subpoenas. In August, Axios published a list "that's circulated through Republican circles," which meticulously previewed "the investigations Democrats will likely launch if they flip the House." It included, among other things, scrutiny of Trump's tax returns.
Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) added his voice to the chorus during a lengthy interview with Associated Press reporters. When a reporter asked about possible Democratic scrutiny of the president's controversial finances, and whether that's "a legitimate line of inquiry," the GOP leader responded:
"I think it'll help the president get re-elected.... This business of presidential harassment may or may not quite be the winner they think it is."
It's an important look into the Senate majority leader's perspective. A fair amount of evidence recently emerged suggesting Trump committed tax fraud and spent much of his life benefiting from illegal handouts. If Congress were to explore the president's alleged misdeeds, however, Mitch McConnell would characterize it as "harassment."
When another reporter at the same event asked if there's anything that McConnell would consider a "legitimate" investigation into the Trump administration," the senator didn't answer directly, but he did say, "I do think as a matter of political tactics ... it would not be smart."
Or put another way, as far as the Senate's top Republican is concerned, the "smart" thing for lawmakers to do is to continue to look the other way when confronted with possible evidence of corruption.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent explained yesterday, "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.... McConnell is once again confirming that if voters keep Republicans in charge of Congress, they'll continue delivering on their side of this bargain."
Quite right. The amusing aspect to this, of course, is that McConnell isn't just eager to maintain an accountability-free bubble around the White House, he's also begun offering Democrats strategic advice on the matter -- as if the Kentucky Republican has sincere concerns about what's best for the opposition party.
Oversight, McConnell said yesterday, will "help the president get re-elected." It would "not be smart," he added, for a Democratic-led chamber to exercise its oversight authority.
I'm trying to imagine congressional Dems getting together for a strategy meeting and grumbling to one another, "Well, we were going to scrutinize Trump's scandalous finances, but Mitch McConnell thinks it might hurt us. He wouldn't give us bad advice, would he?"
At the risk of disappointing the GOP leader, this conversation won't happen.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) recently told donors that GOP lawmakers are "the only ones" who'll shield the president, which is why the California congressman believes "we have to keep the majority."
All of which serves as a reminder that checks and balances -- or as McConnell calls it, "presidential harassment" -- will be on the ballot in 26 days.