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Russia scandal presents congressional Republicans with a choice

Last year, Trump boasted he "could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody," and get away with it. This was, oddly enough, prescient.
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...

About a week before Iowa's presidential caucuses last year, Donald Trump delivered a memorable line while boasting about the loyalty of his allies. "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay?" the Republican bragged. "It's, like, incredible."

This was, in a way, prescient. At the time, Trump was referring to the unflinching support he enjoyed from much of the GOP base, but a year and a half later, it's hard not to wonder if he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and he wouldn't lose any congressional Republicans, either.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) said Monday evening that he would have done the same as Donald Trump Jr. in meeting with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton."Do I think it's appropriate? I think I probably would have done the same thing," Yoho told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "I mean, it's opposition research. Anybody that's been in an election, you're always looking to get the upper hand."

The Florida Republican added, "I stand on the side of the president 100 percent on this."

There's a lot of this going around. While yesterday seemed to present the nation with a smoking gun -- we now know the Trump campaign knew about and welcomed Russia's intervention in the American election -- congressional Republicans were largely indifferent to the developments. The Washington Post reported, "What Democrats saw as a break in the Trump/Russia investigation was processed by many Republicans, and much of conservative media, as one more distraction that was likely being overhyped."

Vox, which ran a helpful quote collection, added, "Everybody at the US Capitol was rocked Tuesday by revelations that Donald Trump Jr. had accepted a meeting with someone whom he had been told was a representative of the Russian government, who had promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Everybody, that is, except Senate Republicans."

GOP lawmakers are not blind to the revelations. They know Russia launched the most serious attack on the United States since 9/11. They know Trump and his team lied about their contacts with Russian nationals. They know Trump fired an FBI director because of the president's opposition to an ongoing investigation in the Russia scandal. They know the Trump campaign was eager to accept support from a foreign adversary.

Congressional Republicans, however, by and large, simply don't care.

Yes, in fairness, there are some exceptions. A handful of GOP lawmakers, who nearly always vote with the White House's position, wrung their hands yesterday and expressed "concern" over the latest revelations.

But 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.

Yesterday was a reminder that this point almost certainly doesn't exist. Most GOP lawmakers are quite comfortable with the idea of Trump and his team facing no consequences for their actions.

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.