Just three weeks into Donald Trump's presidency, the New York Times' David Leonhardt wrote a memorable piece pointing to the dangers associated with an out-of-control president and "a quiescent Congress." Leonhardt said that members of the Republican majority, reluctant to question a White House controlled by the same party, "look the other way. They duck questions about him, or they offer excuses. They enable him."
The same week, Vox' Ezra Klein added, "[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."
A year and a half later, we can say with certainty that congressional Republicans' appetite for any kind of meaningful oversight does not exist. All of this came to mind this morning reading the new column from NBC News' First Read:
...Congress has a DUTY to investigate Cohen implicating the president in breaking the law in 2016 -- by at least opening inquiries before the House and Senate Judiciary committees.If they don't, it only proves the Democratic argument that a GOP-led Congress will never hold Trump accountable for anything.
And yet, by all appearances, the day after the president's former attorney implicated Donald Trump in a federal crime, the likelihood of Congress holding a single hearing or asking questions of a single witness is effectively zero.
Trump is a Republican, the Republican base still likes Trump, and so Republican lawmakers can't bring themselves to lift a finger -- except to advance the president's choice for the Supreme Court.
A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 71% of Americans -- including a narrow majority of Republican voters -- wants to see Congress act as a check on the White House. That would certainly be consistent with how our the American system of government is supposed to work. It's also the opposite of how GOP leaders choose to govern.
Politico added this morning: "If you think back to the Obama years, Republicans had their hair on fire for every scandal du jour. Republicans pushed for a full-blown investigation of the White House after they obtusely offered Joe Sestak an administration position to drop out of a Senate race. They thought Obama was in cahoots with ACORN to rig elections -- and dealt with it legislatively. Can you imagine if two people who served as Obama's top advisers either pleaded or were found guilty? There is no question at all that the GOP majority is handling this differently because it's a president of their party."
That's obvious to the point of being reductive, but note that the same piece quoted a Republican aide saying, "I think there's a credible case to be made that [if] you actually want to hold Trump accountable it'll take both parties to do it. Hence giving it all over to the Dems will just reinforce gridlock."
That's hilariously insincere. The Republican majority has had a year and a half to demonstrate some modicum of interest in accountability and oversight. It's done nothing. The idea that voting Democratic would somehow set back the cause of checks and balances is madness.
We can say, however, that the issue is on the party's leaders' minds. In May, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) explained that if Democrats have any power at all in the next Congress, they'll demand accountability for Trump, complete with hearings and subpoenas.
The GOP leader meant this as a warning, but it's starting to sound like a fairly compelling Democratic campaign pitch for the midterm elections.