Washington braces for a long, hot summer slog of politics
The White House is immersed in allegations of scandal. Congressional Republicans are ensnared in their own divisions.
Instead of movement on health care, taxes and more, GOP control figures to produce a grim summer slog as lawmakers and the Trump administration grind it out into August and beyond.
That's traditionally summer vacation time in Washington, D.C., when Congress goes on a five-week recess, and much of the rest of the town follows suit to escape the stultifying heat and humidity. President Barack Obama would embark on an extended annual visit to Martha's Vineyard.
Not this year. With Republicans six months into full control of Congress and the White House but with practically nothing to show, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate would stay in session an extra two weeks, into mid-August.
Whether results will improve remains to be seen. The Senate is currently tied in knots trying to produce the "Obamacare" repeal-and-replace bill Republicans have promised for years. Bunkered in the White House as Russia-U.S. election details unspool, President Donald Trump has not been seen for days, though he did grant an interview to the Christian Broadcasting Network to announce he'd be "very angry" if Congress fails to produce on health care.
Despite Trump's low approval ratings and the relentless developments involving Russia's election meddling — which now feature Donald Trump Jr. in a starring role — the president still commands loyalty from a significant slice of the GOP base. So few elected Republicans want to cross him by criticizing him over Russia, much less provoke his anger.
It's all adding up to frustration, even misery, for Republicans who've seen their ambitions thwarted on many fronts. And the merciless summer slog may prove the fitting metaphor for an administration that's brought stasis and dysfunction to new levels in Washington.
"This has been a difficult time," acknowledges moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, pointing to the polarization and divisions in the country.
"Unfortunately the president has not united people," Collins says. "And so that's made it a difficult time to serve, by far the most difficult of the 20 years that I've been here."
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who faces a difficult re-election campaign made more complicated by his past opposition to Trump, demurred when asked about the lack of progress in the past six months.
"I would have liked to have gotten more done, certainly," Flake said.
Why didn't you?
"Complex issues," Flake said, smiling. President Trump and Russia didn't have anything to do with it? "I don't want to go there," he said.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., refused to discuss the first six months of the year, but offered a withering historical critique of Congress in general.
"This institution is stunningly dysfunctional," Sasse said. "I've done crisis and turnaround projects in nine sectors of the economy. The human capital problems in Washington, D.C., make everything else pale in comparison."
Health care is not the only issue vexing Republicans. Divisions on taxes, government spending and infrastructure raise doubts about whether the GOP can chalk up any major legislative achievements before 2018 re-election campaigns heat up. And the split over spending even creates the possibility of a government shutdown at the end of September.
Some Republicans are quick to point fingers, with the traditional resentments between the House and the Senate reaching new levels. House Republicans, who've already managed to pass a health care bill, snipe across the Capitol at their counterparts.
"If there's work to be done then we should be here," said GOP Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada on the Senate's decision to delay its summer recess (the House has not followed suit). "If it's we're going to sit here and watch the Senate hopefully do something" — Amodei uttered an expletive which he then amended: "Why don't you say bovine scat."
GOP Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky offered a pointed query over Twitter: "If a mechanic had ur car from January to July and didn't fix a thing, would you insist he keep working on it in August?"
Democrats derive some pleasure from their opponents' difficulties, but they, too, have little desire to hang around Washington for weeks not doing much of anything. And many don't bother to hide their resentment.
"We're waiting to see if the Republicans can get past the scandals and get their act together," said Rep. Linda Sanchez of California. "The president and the Republican Congress promised a bold agenda that was going to help those who are struggling, and I haven't seen much of an actual agenda or anything bold."
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