NEWS WEBSITE Axios reported Aug. 26 that Republicans are “getting ready for hell” in the form of wide-ranging congressional investigations of President Trump should the Democrats take the House in November. That is one way to describe the legislative branch finally taking its oversight responsibilities seriously.
According to the article, a senior House Republican’s office compiled a spreadsheet of more than 100 investigative requests Democrats have made, a document that has circulated on Capitol Hill and “churned Republican stomachs.” Highlights include Mr. Trump’s tax returns; his family’s businesses and whether foreign governments are doing them untoward favors; the president’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin; likely illegal hush money paid to an adult-film star and Playboy model alleging affairs with Mr. Trump; the sudden firing of then-FBI Director James B. Comey; the president’s transgender military ban; the purging of scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency; Cabinet secretary abuse of government perks; the lackadaisical (and deadly) response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; Mr. Trump’s travel ban; election security; and the administration’s policy of ripping migrant children from their parents. The litany goes on.
The full spreadsheet is not public. But the highlights would not incite fear among self-respecting members of Congress. They would compel lawmakers to switch on hearing-room lights and order staff to start digging. Every reported item on the list should already be the subject of sustained congressional inquiry. Some of them should have produced new laws. Mr. Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, in violation of a norm respected for decades, should have resulted in a new requirement that all major-party presidential nominees disclose their tax records. The president’s refusal to dissolve his interest in his sprawling private business and his continual insistence that conflict-of-interest rules do not apply to him should have spurred a new round of government ethics legislation. Though lawmakers have taken some initial steps to shore up election security and to punish the Kremlin for its 2016 meddling, more ambitious legislation should have passed first thing last year, instead of continuing to languish.
If the spreadsheet seems shockingly long, that is because the Trump administration’s behavior has been unusually erratic and suspicious. The sizable list of legitimate matters requiring investigation underscores that the GOP Congress has largely abdicated its responsibility to oversee the executive branch at a time when oversight is more necessary than it has been since the Nixon years.
Yet, instead of serving a reminder of shirked responsibility, the spreadsheet appears to be intended to raise alarms that House Republicans might no longer be able to protect the president from reasonable congressional inquiries. That mind-set says all one needs to know about the quality of this Congress.