At The New Republic, Brian Beutler reminds us that Republican power in Congress -- to threaten Hillary Clinton with a blockade of her judicial appointees if she's elected president, to compel the FBI to embarrass Clinton shortly before the election with more talk of emails -- derives from Democratic voters' decision to stay home in large numbers in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. The FBI, Beutler says, has no fear of recriminations because Republicans control both houses of Congress:
FBI agents can leak damaging information about Clinton with impunity in part because a Republican Congress is never going to investigate or push back on partisan law-enforcement interventions on their behalf, even if they’re wildly inappropriate. Controlling even one house of Congress would’ve allowed Democrats to place a check on this kind of activity, but they ceded the entire body two years ago.
As a result, Comey understood that there’d be hell to pay on Capitol Hill if he withheld the letter he sent congressional investigators on Friday for any length of time, because Republicans control the oversight apparatus and the subpoena power that comes with it. “It doesn’t surprise me, though, in a way that he did this,” Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee told CNN Monday, “because I don’t think the American people have a clue as to how hard the Republicans, particularly on my committee, have been on the FBI.”
Yes, people who are outraged by this should vote for a Democratic president and for Democrats in the House and Senate.
But polls, even now, suggest that Democrats are on course to hold the White House and win back the Senate. So why isn't fear of Democratic electoral gains preventing the FBI from acting on behalf of Republicans? Remember, Comey dropped his email stink bomb into the election at a time when a Clinton landslide seemed possible and there was talk about Democrats retaking the House as well as the Senate.
The reason is that nobody fears Democrats. No one expects Democrats to wield power effectively and settle scores. And Democrats shouldn't be feared, because Republicans are better at this, on offense and on defense.
Democrats controlled Congress after the 2006 elections, and maintained control for the first two years of Barack Obama's presidency. They didn't wield that power against Republicans, even though there were plenty of juicy targets in the Bush administration. Nancy Pelosi took impeachment off the table in 2007. President Obama subsequently said he didn't want to look back. There's no reason to think Democrats would be more aggressive now, especially with a much more tentative hold on power in Congress.
And if they are more aggressive, any investigations will be denounced by Fox and talk radio as a tyrannical abuse of power masterminded from the top by the career criminal, traitor, and murderess Hillary Clinton. Denunciations from Republican officeholders and officials will be somewhat less fevered, but will appear in elite newspapers and on Sunday talk shows far outside the conservative bubble. As those denouncers insist that it's all a partisan witch hunt, their interviewers will nod thoughtfully.
Republicans, of course, will have the backing of GOP base voters, who remain in a state of campaign-level outrage even between elections, thanks to the partisan media they consume at all times. Eventually, all we'll be talking about is whether it's appropriate to be investigating at all.
And if none of this prevents Democrats from turning up real abuses, the conservative infrastructure will probably ensure that any wrongdoer lands on his feet. Jobs will be offered. So will book contracts. They'll all be fine.
So, sure, these guys are acting with impunity while Republicans control Congress. But it's not at all clear that increased Democratic power would restrain them.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog