Republican lawmakers, anxious, fuming, or defiant about a scandal-soaked White House, have desperately wanted to move on from the chaos. And they finally think they can — at least for now.
The latest development in the Russia-related scandals — that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee a criminal investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible ties with Russian actors — has Republicans sounding confident.
“I think it’s a prudent move,” Rep. Mark Meadows, the conservative chair of the House Freedom Caucus, said. “Obviously it shows that the Department of Justice is taking it seriously and when we look at getting to the bottom of this on behalf of the American people.”
Many see this as close as Rosenstein could get to the demand for a special prosecutor — especially when it was clear Republican leadership was uninterested in appointing one. Even Republicans who thought a special prosecutor was unnecessary now see it as a step in the right direction, and those open to an independent commission have backed down.
“Let’s see this thing go forward and see what happens,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said. Earlier on Wednesday, with heightened concern, he had expressed more openness toward an independent commission. But with Mueller, he didn’t think that was necessary anymore. “If we want to start popping up all sorts of investigations, this is never going to be solved and it will literally be just that — a political talking point.”
Republicans seem relieved, looking to their policy agenda instead of dwelling on the sheer gravity of a criminal investigation and multiple congressional probes into their own party’s administration that will continue to loom over their heads.
Republicans are hoping this will end the chaos
Republican lawmakers have been worried the White House’s relentless news cycle will stop them from legislating.
“We could do with less drama. It would be nice,” said Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said Wednesday — repeating a line Sen. Mitch McConnell had used earlier in the day. “We’ve got enormous challenges facing this nation. We should be focused on those.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan’s concern is that the American people will turn on their televisions and “think this is all we’re doing, this is all we’re discussing,” he lamented on Wednesday. “That’s not the case. I want the American people to know that we’re busy fixing their problems.”
On Wednesday that was a much more difficult point to drive home to the voters. Ryan’s conference was being asked whether the Republican president could be impeached — a few even acknowledged the possibility — and the House and Senate began escalating their investigations into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.
With Mueller’s appointment, though, Republicans found some reprieve. No one has had a bad thing to say about Mueller, a George W. Bush era FBI director — even those that find his appointment to be absolutely unnecessary.
To be sure, some, like Sens. Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley, who both sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee currently investigating Russia’s ties to the election, expressed some concern over the transparency of a criminal probe. Others, like Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who sits in a vulnerable Republican seat, said Congress should also have an independent commission.
But the urgency for action felt fainter.
The House, adamant on moving on, started the day with a committee hearing on the much-anticipated debate on tax reform Thursday.
Reporters reintroduced policy questions in their calls out to Congress people. Republicans went back to calling out the factor of heightened partisanship. They were divided on whether it was a “witch hunt” as Trump had called it — but they were more than happy to focus on tax reform.
“There are going to be some people that will be disappointed because it takes away a political talking point,” Kinzinger said.
This is only the beginning
As Vox reported earlier, it’s now an open topic of discussion among K Street Republicans and staff on Capitol Hill that it would be easier to achieve their policy goals if Vice President Mike Pence were in the Oval Office instead.
One Republican lobbyist challenged a reporter: “What percentage of congressional Republicans would rather have President Pence by July Fourth?”
“How does this get better?” the lobbyist said of the Trump scandals. “He’s 70 years old. He is who he is. He’s not changing.”
Not to mention that turning to policy won’t be an easy distraction. The Republican agenda has been running into trouble. Repealing and replacing Obamacare took more arm-wringing in the House than Republicans anticipated, and it’s not going to be any easier in the Senate. Already, there are signs that Republicans are divided on how they would like to approach tax reform — their next big priority.
And all the while, the House, Senate and FBI will be simultaneously in the throes of actively investigating the extent of Russian involvement in the presidential election and, on the executive level, whether the Trump campaign was involved.
That’s not to say that Republicans can’t “walk and chew gum at the same time,” as Ryan has stated.
“It’s really, really important and I hope we get good at multi-tasking,” Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who sits on the House Oversight Committee, said.
But this is only the beginning. The various federal investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia will likely last months. Or years.