As Donald Trump's scandals grow more serious, common sense suggests Congress should be seeking answers about the crises rocking the White House. That, however, isn't how the American political system works, at least not in a period of Republican control.
Congress' Republican majority has gone out of its way to ignore its oversight responsibilities, and in some cases, GOP leaders have raised concerns about what might happen if the party lost control over the levers of federal power. In May, for example, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) warned that if Democrats have any power at all in the next Congress, they'll hold the president accountable, complete with hearings and subpoenas.
Behind the scenes, this is apparently a point of growing anxiety. Axios reported over the weekend about congressional Republicans "getting ready for hell."
Axios has obtained a spreadsheet that's circulated through Republican circles on and off Capitol Hill -- including at least one leadership office -- that meticulously previews the investigations Democrats will likely launch if they flip the House. [...]Thanks to their control of Congress, Republicans have blocked most of the Democrats' investigative requests. But if the House flips, the GOP loses its power to stymie. Lawyers close to the White House tell me the Trump administration is nowhere near prepared for the investigatory onslaught that awaits them, and they consider it among the greatest threats to his presidency.
The list itself isn't short, and it includes possible congressional scrutiny on everything from Trump tax returns to emoluments clause violations, James Comey's firing to hush-money payoffs, mishandling of classified information to election security.
The idea of congressional investigations into these and other issues, the Axios report added, "has churned Republican stomachs." The piece went on to say, "These demands would turn the Trump White House into a 24/7 legal defense operation."
It's worth pausing to consider who'd want information like this to reach the public.
At first blush, the list reads like a Democratic wish list of controversies that lawmakers should've begun examining months ago. It makes the Dems' pitch simple: if you're tired of the unpopular president's scandals and alleged corruption, and you want Trump to face some accountability, there's already a list of possible investigations turning Republicans' stomachs.
But there's a flip side: the list also reads like a warning intended to motivate the GOP's far-right base. The message to rank-and-file Trump fans mirrors the one that may motivate the Democratic base: if you want to protect the White House from congressional subpoenas, it's time to take 2018 midterms seriously.
Indeed, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) echoed a similar sentiment in a recent closed-door fundraiser, telling Republican 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."
To this extent, the list that Axios obtained suggests checks and balances will be on the ballot this fall. Voters will decide in November whether Trump faces some accountability or whether Congress looks away for another two years.