GOP leaders happily stand by Trump as he becomes increasingly unhinged

Debates over Trump's fitness for office are a distraction.

President Donald Trump with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., Vice President Mike Pence, and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., Vice President Mike Pence, and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

On the heels of a dramatic week that featured widespread concern about Trump’s fitness for the office of the presidency, Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) confirmed the GOP establishment is prepared for another year of standing by Trump.

At a press conference on Saturday, GOP leaders pledged to work together to craft a deal to fund the government, crack down on immigration policy, turn their attention to infrastructure reform, lay the groundwork to make deep cuts to safety net programs, and help more Republicans get elected in the midterms. Appearing alongside the president, Pence, McConnell, and Ryan calmly delivered statements from the podium about Congress’ plans to productively work with the Trump White House to accomplish top GOP legislative goals.

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From a right-of-center perspective, 2017 was the most consequential year in the many years I’ve been here in Congress,” McConnell said.

Paul Ryan also praised Republicans’ “historic achievements” in 2017, adding, “I’m particularly pleased we had an extremely productive conversation with the president and his team yesterday about how we go forward in 2018.”

Trump, in turn, pledged to help campaign for the Republican candidates running in the 2018 midterm elections. “They’ve been explaining to me that they want me to be involved,” he said, gesturing to McConnell and Ryan.

Saturday’s press conference puts to rest any questions about whether Republican leaders may be reaching their breaking point with Trump, whose behavior has always been erratic but who has become increasingly unhinged in recent days.

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Trump sparked widespread concern earlier this week by taunting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un about his big and powerful “nuclear button.” His policy decisionmaking also came under scrutiny following the publication of Michael Wolff’s tell-all book about the Trump White House, chock-full of anecdotes — some of which mirror reports that have appeared in outlets like the New York Times, and some of which haven’t been independently confirmed — that illustrate a figure completely unfit to hold the highest office of government.

On Saturday morning, just a few hours before the press conference, Trump took to Twitter — his platform of choice for a constant stream of incendiary and often racist offhand remarks — to unconvincingly defend his stability, declaring himself as “being, like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.”

This has sparked serious discussions about whether Trump’s behavior falls under the purview of the 25th Amendment, which allows for a president to be removed by their vice president and cabinet members if he (or she) becomes “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” In addition to the breathless coverage of the juicy revelations in Wolff’s book, Politico reports that a Yale psychiatrist briefed about a dozen members of Congress last month about questions being raised in the medical community over Trump’s fitness for office.

Interest in the 25th Amendment has heated up at other times over the course of Trump’s presidency; last July, after Trump tweeted a video of himself punching a man’s face superimposed with a CNN logo, the #25thAmendmentNow hashtag trended nationally on Twitter.

But this conversation is largely a distraction from the political realities that Pence, McConnell, and Ryan emphasized at Saturday’s presser.

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Removing Trump through the 25th Amendment would require surmounting an incredibly high bar. First, Mike Pence and the majority of the people serving in Trump’s cabinet would need to submit a written declaration that Trump is unable to carry out his duties as president; then, a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate would need to endorse removing Trump from office.

The most powerful Republicans in Washington don’t want that. Instead, they’ve made it clear they want to keep working with Trump. They need him, as the leader of the Republican Party and the current occupant of the White House, to help enact their legislative agenda. And they’re willing to prioritize that over everything else.

As Republican leaders have shown time and time again — through every controversy over the latest explosive tweet, through erratic decisions to fire administration appointees and push out White House staff, through accusations of collusion and obstruction of justice, through evidence of financial conflicts of interest, through expressions of blatant racism, through multiple allegations of sexual predation and harassment — they care more about what Trump can do for them than about the values he routinely violates.

The same book that’s sparking the latest round of 25th Amendment conversations, in fact, includes a telling detail that underscores the point that invoking the 25th Amendment represents an impossible dream thanks to Republican leaders’ willingness to tolerate the president.

“He’ll sign anything we put in front of him,” Mitch McConnell said in reference to Trump, according to Wolff.

After all, he’s at least fit enough to hold a pen.