Put down that smartphone, stand very still, and listen for the soft whoosh of hundreds of Capitol Hill Republicans breathing a sigh of relief. Stay quiet a moment longer, and you may hear a few even begin to weep gently.
The cause of such collective release? The appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel charged with determining if any members of Team Trump got too cozy with Russia during last year’s campaign—and whether further improprieties may have flowed from that coziness. The vast assortment of Trump haters may be more delighted to see the president placed in such an ungainly position. But it’s safe to say no one is more relieved by Mueller’s arrival than GOP lawmakers.
To some degree, of course, the out-of-control freak show that is the Trump White House reflects badly on the entire Republican brand. But, let’s face it: That was happening anyway, with GOP lawmakers trapped on the frontlines. (The halls of the Capitol were so jam-packed with frenzied reporters this week that the Senate press gallery had to alert media outlets that the building had “reached its capacity.”)
Mueller’s appointment by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein potentially improves these members’ lives in multiple ways. Some are more immediate and/or direct than others, and most will rely at least a wee bit on Trump’s not going totally berserk and perpetuating the non-stop toxic chaos of the past several days. (This is no sure thing.) But when it comes to the uneasy, ever-shifting balance of power between Trump and Congress, special counsel Mueller places a fat thumb on the scales in lawmakers’ favor—for now, at least.