House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., joins other House Democratic leaders at a news conference with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, July 30, 2021. The Justice Department said today the Treasury Department must provide the House Ways and Means Committee former President Donald Trump's tax returns, apparently ending a long legal showdown over the records. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

What happened to McConnell?

Who is that masked man we thought was Mitch McConnell until he voted last week for the bipartisan infrastructure deal?

Mitch McConnell, the guy in the middle. The guy we've come of think of as an apologist for all things Trumpian and wing-nut. The guy who usually is able — even eager — to herd most of his caucus to say no, no and by-golly-no to a Democratic White House. Yet this is the guy who stood quietly by as Republicans negotiated.

Why, as The New York Times asked, was he willing to hand President Joe Biden — who made achieving bipartisan results in Washington a central part of his pitch in last year's presidential election — even this much of a victory?

After all, the former guy (for whom McConnell was all too happy to be lap dog) opposed it on exactly those "bipartisan" grounds: "Who are these RINO" — Republican In Name Only — "Republicans that are so dedicated to giving the Radical Left Democrats a big and beautiful win on Infrastructure?

Sarah Binder, a political science professor at George Washington University, told the Times the answer is simple. McConnell's ultimate instinct is for self-preservation — and 2022.

The spate of bipartisan accomplishments under Obama came after the 2014 midterms, when McConnell had regained the majority but faced a tough slate of elections, she noted. Now, she said, he's looking at what happened in 2016 when he had Republican moderates in Illinois and elsewhere in bluish states.

"So they finally redo No Child Left Behind, they do the last highway bill and some small-bore health care adjustments. It's in the Republicans' electoral interests that year to have something to run on," she said.

It worked. Though the Republican incumbent in Illinois, Mark Kirk, lost, ones in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida won. McConnell lost two seats, but kept his majority.

Next year, the Republican incumbents in Pennsylvania, Ohio and possibly Wisconsin are not seeking re-election, ceding a G.O.P. advantage. McConnell cannot afford to lose two seats this time. In fact, he must net at least one to regain the majority.

John Aldrich, a professor of political science at Duke, says there's another reason McConnell is (so far) playing nice: "One of the reasons bipartisan bills are reasonably common is that the status quo, or what would happen if you didn't pass legislation, is sufficiently bad. Republicans really felt they needed to do something."


Chris Krebs hammers 'big lie' defenders

Speaking of blowing off the former guy, Chris Krebs, who led the federal government's election security efforts during the Trump administration, told the Washington Post last week that elected Republicans still contesting the 2020 election should be ashamed.

"This is power play and this is about fundraising and that's all this is, Krebs said during a Washington Post Live interview. "Shame on those that continue to push the 'big lie,' " he said referring to baseless claims that Trump won the election.

You'll recall that Krebs's former agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, help a number of states shift to more secure election systems with voter trails and installed hacking sensors on voting systems across all 50 states.

Trump fired him in a tweet in November for calling the 2020 presidential election "the most secure in American history."


And in another reversal ...

After a yearslong fight, the U.S. Justice Department on Friday said the Treasury Department must turn over six years of former President Trump's tax returns to House investigators. The 39-page legal opinion potentially paves the way for the tax returns' eventual release to Congress and to the public, dealing a sharp legal blow to Trump's effort to keep his tax information secret.

The opinion says the Treasury Department has no valid grounds to withhold the documents from the House, which had sued to enforce the original 2019 request after the Trump Treasury Department objected. Litigation remains ongoing.

Democrats on Capitol Hill hailed the decision as a victory for congressional oversight powers and for national security.

Republicans immediately decried the decision as "politically motivated," with Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House tax-writing committee, whining: "If politicians in Congress can demand, and ultimately make public, the president's private tax returns, what stops them from doing the same to others they view as a political enemy?"

Excuse us. Trump was an outlier among politicians in his refusal to publicly release the tax documents, both as a candidate and as president. The real question is when will we see a federal law requiring candidates to release this important information.

In the meantime, we can count on Trump to take still more legal action, trying to get a judge to block the transfer. That could take months or longer to work out.

But here's the thing. Truth comes out — sooner or later. Think of all the things we already know about Trump and his family's dodgy money business — just from leaks and reporting and state and federal lawsuits and investigations.

Truth comes out.