With every development in the congressional probes into Russia’s alleged ties to President Donald Trump’s team, Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) goes through the same routine with reporters.
Asked what he thought of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday, Mast said he hadn’t watched it.
“I have work to do,” he said, smiling — knowing that he’s given the same answer before.
Sure enough, it was what he said last week both when James Comey, the former FBI director whom Trump unexpectedly fired, released his public statement on Wednesday confirming many of the allegations against Trump swirling in the press, and when Comey testified on Thursday. “I’ve been working,” he said.
Mast said he caught up on Comey’s hearing over the weekend, and his takeaways were much like those of the rest of the Republican conference: Trump was vindicated, Comey is a lackey out for Trump, and the whole ordeal is just a partisan witch hunt. Sessions’s testimony was more of the same.
Congressional Republicans, who are more than happy to look the other way, put forth two basic arguments. Those who have expressed more concern with the scandals in the past are still waiting to “get to the facts.” And those quick to Trump’s defense are blaming Democrats for “obstructing progress” on the Republican agenda.
The congressional probes into the White House’s alleged Russia ties have become a game of he-said, he-said, and Republicans just want Trump and the press to move on, so they can focus on their ambitious agenda.
Republicans say Trump would do better by leaving this all alone
With all the drama in the Senate, Republicans in the House are more than happy to leave the news developments in the Russia investigations alone.
“The truth needs to come out, and I’ll follow the facts,” Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) said.
Most by late afternoon hadn’t tuned in to watch the testimony.
“No one cares,” Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) said of all the Russia-related probes. “Back home, no one asks.” He went on to say that Trump would do better leaving all of it alone, too. “[Tweeting] hurt him on this,” Brat said of Trump’s reactions. “He knows it’s not helping his cause.”
The sentiment is one that resonates past Republicans on Capitol Hill.
In an interview with the White House’s Kellyanne Conway, Fox & Friends’ Brian Kilmeade tried to give Trump the same advice Monday morning: Stop talking about the Russia investigations, focus on the Republican agenda, and the scandal will go away.
But Trump remains fixated on the scandal developing in the press and being investigated in congressional hearings. Since Comey’s hearing last Thursday, the president has continually tweeted angrily about his former FBI director’s comments, commanding attention.
Even Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. can’t stop watching.
I was, it's why I got a late start, but I couldn't miss part 2 of the pathetic dem witch hunt train wreck. https://t.co/mUZ3JoU3Me— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 13, 2017
Republicans keep saying this whole Russia probe is a distraction. But is it?
Publicly, the frustration with the scandals is not directed at the president’s actions or criminal allegations: It is over the fact that they have yet to deliver a single piece of signature legislation to Trump’s desk.
“There’s no doubt that keeping members focused on investigations detracts from our legislative agenda,” Trump’s director of legislative affairs, Marc Short, told reporters this week, according to Politico. Conway called the Democrats’ “obsession” with the probes “obstruction of progress.”
It’s true congressional Republicans desperately want to move on, and they’re making every effort to downplay reports and use developments in investigations by claiming it’s a partisan “fishing expedition.”
“I think it’s overblown to begin with, and I think that’s proven to be the case,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said of the congressional hearings into Russia.
But even with most of the attention on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearing with Sessions, Senate Republicans are taking big steps in moving forward their health bill this week — and all in secret: No one has seen the legislation, and Senate leadership isn’t planning to give it any public hearings or debate.
For now, calling down distraction seems easy fodder for Republicans, who largely seem resigned to the reality that these investigations will need to play their course.
“This is what we need to do to get this all behind us,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said last week.