The Slatest

Having Made Essentially No Progress on Holding Trump Accountable, Democrats Prepare for a Six-Week Vacation

Hoyer, wearing sunglasses, leans over to listen to Pelosi, who is also wearing sunglasses.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and in Washington on Thursday. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

By wide margins, the voters in 2018 who elected Democrats to lead the House of Representatives said they were doing so because they wanted representatives who would “oppose” and act as a “check” on Donald Trump. Nine months later, the Navigator polling initiative—which is run by prominent Democratic operatives—still finds that double-digit majority segments of the public believe, for example, that Congress should investigate whether Trump’s obstruction of the Robert Mueller investigation justifies impeachment and that Congress should obtain Trump’s tax returns. So with the legislative branch preparing to take its annual six-week summer recess, let’s check in on how the Dems who control the lower chamber have used their power to make progress on those and other issues of administration accountability.

• On obstruction, Democrats waited three months after Mueller’s report was issued to hear his testimony, during which (predictably! It’s what he said he would do) he did little but reiterate the points that were in his report. They haven’t heard public testimony from any of the individuals, like former White House counsel Don McGahn, who were involved in the episodes of potentially impeachable conduct that Mueller described.

• On the subject of the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia’s operations against Hillary Clinton, Democrats have not heard public testimony from any of the individuals—like campaign chairman Steve Bannon, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, or Donald Trump Jr.—who might be able to speak to the idea that the campaign’s enthusiastic response to Russia’s efforts, while perhaps not directly conspiratorial in the criminal sense, was more broadly corrupt.

• The Ways and Means Committee filed a lawsuit seeking disclosure of the tax returns … in July, six months after Democrats took power. Courts being courts, the suit is unresolved and will likely remain so for some time.

• The lawsuit against Trump’s acceptance of “emoluments” (bribes) through private sources like the Trump Hotel is also pending.

• The Oversight Committee has yet to hear public testimony from any of the individuals involved in overriding the recommendations of non-partisan staffers in order to issue security clearances to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

• There is no ongoing congressional investigation to speak of into Trump’s use of national parks funds to throw a VIP event for Republican donors in front of the Lincoln Memorial on July 4.

• Speaking of things involving the National Mall, there’s been no substantive congressional investigation into the large sums of money given to Trump’s inauguration fund and to his associates by individuals and businesses seeking favors from the administration after his election.

• Speaking of the election, there’s been no substantial congressional investigation into Trump and Michael Cohen’s use of illegal payments to keep stories about Trump’s embarrassing personal behavior from becoming public in 2016.

On a number of these subjects, as with other administration conduct that is less directly related to Trump’s personal corruption but just as alarming, Democrats have been slowed by the White House’s legal strategy of totally refusing all oversight requests. But they’ve also been slowed, as the case of the tax returns illustrates, by the molasses pace with which they even begin making oversight requests, and by their unwillingness to respond to refusals with legal strategies like contempt lawsuits or impeachment hearings that could compel hastier cooperation.

The result is that, nine months after being elected in part to hold Trump accountable, Democrats in Congress haven’t exposed the president or any of his enablers to the kinds of public scrutiny and condemnation—even the kinds that wouldn’t require an impeachment vote, like embarrassing public grillings and damning official reports—that would discourage corrupt behavior.

Relatedly, Navigator also recently found that by a 48–42 majority, Americans are “more concerned” that “the Trump administration will get away with corruption and unethical behavior” than that Democrats are “going too far in oversight.” Seems about right! Time for a nice, long break!