Opinion writer

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sat down for an extensive interview with Associated Press reporters, the full video of which you can watch here. One of the most telling moments was this one, in response to a question from the AP’s Dustin Weaver: (emphasis added):

Question: Democrats have made clear that if they do win back the House, they plan to launch many, many investigations into the president and the administration. They’ve made clear that one of their lines of inquiry is going to be the president’s tax returns, the president’s businesses, the president’s hotel contract. . . . Do you think that’s a legitimate line of inquiry for Democrats to be talking about?

McConnell: I think it’ll help the president get reelected. I remember the price we paid — actually, we did impeach Bill Clinton. I remember all the enthusiasm, lots of Republicans in the House and Senate — “boy, this is the ticket, this is gonna make us have a great year.” . . . It worked exactly the opposite. The public got mad at us. . . . This business of presidential harassment may or may not quite be the winner they think it is.

McConnell was asked directly whether President Trump’s tax returns and self-dealing constitute a legitimate topic for congressional oversight. He didn’t directly answer, but he did dismissively characterize such an inquiry as “presidential harassment.”

Then AP reporter Julie Pace sought to clarify the majority leader’s position:

Question: Is there anything, though, that you think would be a legitimate investigation into this president or this administration?

McConnell: Well, look, it’ll be up to them to decide what they want to investigate. . . . I do think as a matter of political tactics . . . it would not be smart. But, frequently, they aren’t. Which is helpful.

Again, no answer. Remarkably, this comes just after the New York Times released a major expose revealing that Trump has scooped in hundreds of millions of dollars from his father’s real estate empire, much of it via extensive “dubious” tax schemes — including instances of outright tax fraud. In some cases, Trump himself was directly involved. This has renewed the urgency of getting a look at Trump’s own tax returns, to see if he has since employed similar schemes.

Democrats have vowed to do all they can to access those tax returns if they regain the majority in either the House or the Senate. They have also signaled that they will try to get them in order to examine Trump’s global business dealings, to determine whether there are any conflicts of interest or other questionable foreign entanglements (*cough* Russia *cough*). But, again, McConnell brushed off any such efforts as mere “harassment.”

Congressional Republicans keep cheerfully and openly presenting themselves as the alternative to the party that actually does want to exercise congressional oversight. Indeed, in some cases, they have explicitly argued that voters should keep them in charge of Congress to prevent such oversight from ever happening at all.

Remember, Axios recently reported on a memo circulating among worried House Republicans, who laid out a list of investigations Democrats might undertake if they win the House. Among them: getting access to Trump’s tax returns; and trying to force more transparency around Trump’s business holdings, to determine whether revenue going into his pockets violates the emoluments clause.

The memo’s very existence essentially concedes that there are various lines of inquiry that a Congress interested in exercising real oversight might pursue. After all, Trump’s self-dealing and refusal to release his tax returns do create conditions ripe for corruption, or possibly even exposure to blackmail. But the memo also suggests that the actual pursuit of real oversight is something Republicans regard as unsettling. As Axios reported, the memo reflects the fact that Republicans bracing for that horrifying prospect are “scrambling to prepare for the worst.”

Then there’s that leaked audio of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. At a fundraiser, he said the following about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s inquiry: “If Sessions won’t unrecuse, and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones. . . . We have to keep the majority.”

In other words, if Mueller is in the process of unearthing serious wrongdoing, and if Trump can’t corruptly hamstring or close Mueller down, House Republicans are Trump’s last line of protection. And that’s precisely why, they say, you should keep Republicans in power.

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. Republicans got their massive corporate tax cut, and they just got another big payment in the form of Trump’s successful nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. McConnell is once again confirming that if voters keep Republicans in charge of Congress, they’ll continue delivering on their side of this bargain.