Witcover: Lame-duck GOP seeks brownie points with president before Dems take House

Because the newly elected Democratic majority in the House does not take office until Jan. 4, the ousted Republican leadership has a lame-duck month in which to get some political dirty work done.

The outgoing House Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas to former FBI Director James Comey and former Democratic Attorney General Loretta Lynch to testify next week. It shapes up as a rehash of the handling of Republican congressional investigations of Hillary Clinton's 2016 emails and the separate allegations of Russian meddling in the presidential election campaign.


Mr. Comey has expressed his willingness to testify in the open, but he said, "I will resist a closed door thing because I've seen enough of (the committee's) selective leaking and distortion." He also remains a critical figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into President Donald Trump's political and business activities, which Mr. Trump has dismissed as a "hoax" and a "witch hunt."

Mr. Comey's reopening of the Clinton emails dispute on the eve of the election was widely blamed for her narrow loss to Mr. Trump in the Electoral College. After Mr. Trump took office, Mr. Comey has alleged, he asked Mr. Comey to overlook National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's lying about having met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, which led to Mr. Flynn's firing.


For all the political turmoil that has already been churned by Mr. Trump's free-wheeling presidency, the country seems as yet unwilling to confront the institutional damage he has inflicted on America's reputation and claim of world leadership in this period of erosion of human and moral values.

With the approaching changeover of majority control of the House, the partisan firewall that protected the president on Capitol Hill will crumble. Democrats in the House Judiciary and other committees are weighing their prospects for taking on Mr. Trump, bolstered by the blue wave in the midterm elections that rebuked the party of Trump.

Many Democratic leaders in the House, including prospective speaker Nancy Pelosi, downplay talk of impeaching Mr. Trump, out of caution against moving too early and recklessly. Most seem content to allow Mr. Mueller all the time he needs to build an airtight case against the increasingly unhinged man in the Oval Office.

Some Republican members of the House, suddenly confronted with loss of power, are grasping at the last days of their majority status to score minor brownie points. But the arrival of a new Congress and of divided power in January provides grounds to hope for at least a modicum of serious governance, which is missing in the current political miasma.

Perhaps the arrival of a brief lame-duck Congress running out the clock with no purpose for the rest of 2018, in a sort of adult time-out, is what America deserves after the year that was.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is