President Trump provides neither coherent nor conservative leadership on policy. He creates foreign policy fiascoes. He has not resolved his conflicts of interest and still arguably operates in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. When, irate Democrats and some Republicans plead, will Congress do something about him?
Expecting House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to act on principle (e.g. investigate emoluments, rebuke the president on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement) has proved to be as fruitless as waiting for a new Donald Trump to emerge. That said, several factors may push rank-and-file Republicans to disassociate themselves from Trump and to act as an independent check on the executive branch.
First, polls matter. Without the popular-vote majority, Trump cannot claim that the country is behind him. Moreover, as individual issues — and debacles — occur, we see just how little support he has. Gallup finds that a plurality of Americans (47 percent) think he is moving “too fast”; 52 percent disapprove of his performance overall (a scant 43 percent approve); and significant majorities reject his recent actions on immigration. On the travel ban, 55 percent disapprove while only 42 percent approve. Some 60 percent disapprove of building the wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, while only 38 percent approve. Disapproval for suspending the Syrian refugee problem is at 58 percent; just 36 percent approve. Republican lawmakers, therefore, are cheering — and in some cases, enabling — moves that are both bad policy and bad politics. If they see voters’ dissatisfaction persist, they may begin to speak up and even block some of Trump’s initiatives.
Second, House and Senate members find themselves being pressed into service to fix Trump’s foreign policy blunders and soothe irate allies. Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) both spoke to the Australians to assure them that our relationship was solid. You wonder what they said in explanation. (e.g. Don’t mind him — we ignore him all the time.) Meanwhile, Ryan, as is typical, refused to comment directly. He instead said blandly, “No, I don’t think Australia should be worried about its relationship with our new president or with our country, for that matter.” At some point, Republicans will grow tired of this — and alarmed at the damage Trump is doing to America’s alliances. Then we may see more overt efforts from elected Republicans to contain or block Trump.
Third, the investigation into Russian hacking continues as senators are due to convene soon to receive an update. Our intelligence services — and, according to news reports, our allies’ intelligence operations — continue to hunt for evidence of contact between the Trump campaign and Russia. (The more unhinged Trump seems, the harder these allies may work to get to the bottom of it.) Likewise, Democrats are demanding an explanation of monies received for an RT gala speech that national security adviser Michael Flynn gave in Russia. Trump’s consistent praise for Vladimir Putin stands in sharp contrast to his outbursts against allies, something those deeply concerned about his infatuation with Putin surely have noticed. To the extent Trump tries to lift sanctions or refuses to impose new ones, as Congress wants to do, suspicions about his relationship with Russia will only increase — as will the motivation to turn up evidence, for example, to confirm the 35-page dossier leaked to the public.
Fourth, public pressure to investigate Trump’s conflicts may build. The Daily Herald reports from Utah:
Constituents in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District are looking forward to a scheduled town hall meeting with U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Alpine, on Feb. 9.
Residents in Chaffetz’s district have questions for him, many of which revolve around what they see as a lack of interest in investigating President Donald Trump’s possible conflicts of interest. As the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Chaffetz helps set the agenda on a committee whose purpose is to investigate waste, fraud and abuse and exercise oversight of the federal government. …
Courtney Marden, an American Fork resident, is among those who feel Chaffetz is not doing all that could be done to investigate the new president’s possible conflicts of interest. Marden started a petition on change.org on Jan. 18 that she intended to hold Chaffetz accountable to investigating the current administration’s possible conflicts of interest. The petition jumped to more than 2,500 supporters in two weeks, with people from all over the country signing their names.
A number of disgruntled voters are quoted as saying that Chaffetz is hypocritical because he has repeatedly investigated Hillary Clinton. Some think he is using his job to angle for higher office. Chaffetz arrogantly suggested, “I’m sure the Democrats will be out in force yelling and screaming.” One wonders whether he has forgotten that he represents all voters or whether he assumes that all Republicans lack principle and concern about good government. He surely sounds like a lawmaker who no longer respects his constituents.
Once voters start to call, write and turn out en masse at GOP lawmakers’ events to demand that they investigate Trump’s troubling finances, lawmakers may decide that passivity is not a smart political option. Certainly, if primary and/or general election opponents run on the issue in 2018, you can bet that they will reconsider enabling behavior far more egregious than anything Clinton ever tried.
In sum, lawmakers are remarkably skittish. As soon as they figure out that protecting Trump is not in their own political interest, they may sing a different tune. Part of that depends upon how awful Trump’s performance looks over the next few months. If the Russian hacking investigation turns up worrisome evidence or if Trump’s conflicts bloom into full-blown corruption, Republicans will feel queasy about defending him. However, ultimately the voters hold sway. If they complain loudly and frequently to their representatives and continue to register disagreement with Trump’s performance, Republicans will act in their own political self-interest. They always do.