Republican congressional aides have set their iPhones to flutter every time President Donald Trump hurls a thunderbolt on Twitter. The congressional morning briefing literature now includes a rundown of social media missives from the commander-in-chief.
After three weeks in the White House, Trump has made clear that he is going to continue promulgating conspiracy theories, flinging personal insults and saying things that are untrue. And the Republican-controlled House and Senate seem to have made a collective decision: They will accommodate — not confront — his conduct as long as he signs their conservative proposals on taxes, regulations and health care into law.
“There’s a widely held view among our members that, yes, he’s going to say things on a daily basis that we’re not going to like,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Senate Republican, “but that the broad legislative agenda and goals that we have — if we can stay focused on those and try and get that stuff enacted — those would be big wins.”
Such accommodation is coming at a price, attracting angry constituents to town hall meetings, leaving members flat-footed when presented with the latest presidential provocation and testing the capacity of clogged phone lines on Capitol Hill.
Some of this would have happened under any Republican president. But Trump’s rampaging presidency has spurred uncommon civic engagement even in deep-red districts.
“What is your line in the sand?” a retired Utah teacher demanded last week of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who slogged through a jeer-heavy forum back home.
That’s a price Republicans seem willing to pay.
Some lawmakers take comfort knowing that the president’s behavior last year didn’t hurt their campaigns.
“He’s a unique personality, to be sure,” acknowledged Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Republican whip. “But he’s gotten this far the way he is, and I think that probably leads him to think, well, it’s working for him so far, so why change?”
And Republican lawmakers do not mind?
“As long as we’re able to get things done,” Cornyn said.