Republican lawmakers dismayed by Donald Trump’s self-inflicted political wounds will soon have new opportunities to take on Hillary Clinton themselves.
GOP maneuvers right before summer recess, and their recent focus on the Iran nuclear deal, signal how Republicans may use the levers of Congress to attack the Democratic nominee this fall.
Republicans, to be sure, must focus on steps that bolster their most vulnerable members, especially with Senate control up for grabs.
But despite the party’s tepid embrace of Trump, who is well behind Clinton nationally and in key swing states in recent polls, lawmakers may also seek to highlight Clinton’s vulnerabilities.
Republicans have two big reasons to attack Clinton. One is of course defeating her. But even if Trump looks highly likely to lose, GOP lawmakers will seek chances to argue that a Republican-controlled Congress is a needed check on her agenda.
The juiciest target remains the scandal over Clinton’s private email system.
Shortly before recess, lawmakers in both chambers, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, introduced bills to strip the security clearances of Clinton and top State Department aides over their handling of sensitive information.
GOP leadership aides are staying mum for now on whether they’ll pursue the topic this fall.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell isn’t ruling out bringing up such a measure, saying only “I don’t have any announcements on that.” An aide to Cornyn did not comment on a potential vote Friday.
Across the Capitol, Speaker Paul Ryan said in July that Clinton should not receive intelligence briefings while she’s a candidate.
Asked this week about bringing up legislation to thwart her security clearance, Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong didn’t rule out the idea either.
However, she steered National Journal to Ryan’s comments in an early July press conference about Clinton receiving classified information. “I don’t know if we even have the ability to change that or not. My guess is we don’t,” Ryan said at the time.
Regardless, the emails are sure to come up again in September, if nothing else because FBI Director James Comey is slated to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.
The oversight hearing will give Republicans fresh chances to discuss Comey’s findings that Clinton and her aides were “extremely careless” in their handling of highly classified information—and criticize his decision to recommend against prosecution.
Clinton herself kept the controversy alive in recent days by misrepresenting Comey’s characterization of her statements about the email system.
(In repeated statements, Clinton has suggested that Comey called her public statements about the emails accurate, when in fact he more narrowly said there’s no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI. His investigative findings, in fact, contradict several of the claims Clinton has made about her system.)
And several congressional committees are pursuing the topic, including the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has asked the FBI for its files on its inquiry and, according to a committee aide, is “working with the FBI to obtain those.”
Beyond the emails, Republicans have used revelations about a $400 million payment to Iran to revive criticism of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with the Iranian regime—attacks that could also provide another avenue for going after Clinton too.
Republicans claim the payment amounted to ransom for the release of several Americans, even though it was technically part of the resolution of a decades-old dispute over an arms agreement reached before the Iranian revolution in 1979.
A suite of top Republicans are attacking the Obama administration over the matter and again going after the deal aimed at thwarting Iran from obtaining the atomic bomb.
If Republicans are still talking about the topic when they reconvene in Washington next month, which is likely, look for lawmakers to point out that Clinton the candidate has supported the nuclear agreement.
It was reached after she stepped down as secretary of State, although initial talks with Iran occurred during her tenure.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz is demanding information from the State Department and planning to have Secretary of State John Kerry appear before the committee, although his Aug. 3 letter to Kerry does not provide a timeframe for a hearing.
And on Friday Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch demanding information about the planeload of money flown to Iran in January that coincided with the release of four Americans held in Iran.