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Paul Ryan warns that if Dems win, they'll hold Trump accountable

Paul Ryan believe that Democrats, if given any meaningful authority in Congress, would take steps to hold the president accountable for his actions.
Image: U.S. President Trump listens to  Speaker Ryan as he gathers with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump (C) listens to House Speaker Paul Ryan (L) as he gathers with Congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House...

The New York Times had an interesting report about a week ago, pointing to Republican concerns that Donald Trump is insufficiently concerned about the 2018 midterm elections.

The article noted, among other things, that GOP leaders have tried to impress upon the president "just how bruising this November could be for Republicans -- and how high the stakes are for Mr. Trump personally, given that a Democratic-controlled Congress could pursue aggressive investigations and even impeachment."

It's a fair point to emphasize, but there's something cynical at the root of the observation: Republican lawmakers have effectively told the Republican president that they've looked the other way on Trump's scandals and misdeeds, ignoring their oversight responsibilities and undermining the entire idea of checks and balances, but Democrats won't.

House Speaker Paul Ryan appears eager to make a related case to the public.

House Speaker Paul Ryan warned that Democratic gains in November's congressional elections could make it impossible to get anything accomplished and expose President Donald Trump's administration to more aggressive oversight.Should Republicans lose control of either the House or Senate, "you'll have gridlock, you'll have subpoenas," with the whole legislative system "shutting down," Ryan said Wednesday in Beverly Hills, California, at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference.

This is not a good argument. Just at face value, I don't imagine many political observers would say the legislative process has worked efficiently and effectively since the GOP took control of the levers of federal power -- they've passed one big bill, and they did so in a reckless way, rife with mistakes and abuses -- which makes dire warnings about "gridlock" difficult to take seriously.

For that matter, there have been plenty of times in American history in which the parties have shared power in D.C. For Ryan to assume that the entire system would "shut down" if Republicans had to compromise with Democrats is a mistake.

But it's use of the word "subpoenas" that jumped out at me.

What the retiring House Speaker seemed to suggest was that Democrats, if given any meaningful authority in Congress, would take steps to hold the president accountable for his actions.

Or put another way, Ryan wants voters to back Republican candidates in order to ensure that the pro-Trump cover-up can continue on Capitol Hill. "Vote GOP in 2018," the slogan effectively goes, "We're against oversight and accountability for Republican presidents."

Early on in Trump's tenure, the New York Times' David Leonhardt wrote a memorable piece, explaining, "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.... So they look the other way. They duck questions about him, or they offer excuses. They enable him."

Vox' Ezra Klein added at the time, "[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."

To hear Paul Ryan tell it, Congress should do practically nothing, and voters should help the Republican majority ensure that doesn't change.