From the start, Republicans in Congress have been approaching Donald Trump’s tenure in terms of equilibrium: are they more likely to survive politically and get reelected by falling in line with a wildly unpopular president from their own party, or by standing against him? Now that his approval rating is at record lows and his scandals are accelerating, congressional Republicans are in fact beginning to try to distance themselves from Trump.
The first sign came on Wednesday morning when the Senate Judiciary Committee announced in bipartisan fashion that it’s opening an investigation into whether Donald Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey (link). This committee is majority-Republican, and this move would not be happening unless at least some of the Republicans on the committee – including chair Chuck Grassley – want it to happen.
The second sign came on Wednesday afternoon when the Senate voted in overwhelming 97-to-2 fashion to increase punitive sanctions on Russia, and to take away Donald Trump’s power to ease those Russian sanctions (link). It’s rare to see a political party aiming to reel in the executive power of a sitting president from that same party, and it only tends to happen when the party is placing its bets against that president succeeding or surviving politically
The third sign came when Republican Congressman Leonard Lance went on television on Wednesday night and strongly backed Special Counsel Robert Mueller (link), amid buzz that Donald Trump might try to fire him. Look to see how many more congressional Republicans end up publicly lining up behind Mueller, and use that as a gauge for how thoroughly the party is distancing itself from Trump. But with Trump seemingly intent on doing this the hard way, these belated actions by the Republicans may be too late to help them in 2018 midterms.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report