Amid Kavanaugh cacophony, Congress forges bipartisan agreements on key issues
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., fretted that “tribalism” was on the rise in American politics and “is ruining us.”
“I’m so tempted to use the ‘l’ word,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, on the floor when describing the tactics of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “But he’s my friend.”
Schumer instead tempered the aspersion directed at his Senate counterpart as a “blatant falsehood.”
“Boy, ya’ll want power!” spat Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., across the dais at Democrats at the second confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.. “God, I hope you never get it.”
After delivering his closing floor speech in opposition to Kavanaugh, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., lamented that the Senate has “hit rock bottom.”
Lawmakers shredded civility like a Banksy painting at Sotheby’s during the confirmation fight over Brett Kavanaugh.
Angst and enmity often consume Capitol Hill when big issues split the sides. The rise of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and the 1994 Republican takeover of the House. Multiple government shutdowns. The impeachment of President Clinton. The Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq War. The skirmish to approve ObamaCare. A monumental 2011 fight over the debt ceiling. The 2013 government shutdown over repealing ObamaCare. And now, Kavanaugh.
The rancor spilled over the Kavanaugh confirmation ranks right up there with some of the most intense imbroglios in Washington over the past quarter century. You know it’s tense in Congress when the workers who operate the trolleys which shuttle people back and forth from the Russell Senate Office Building and the Capitol start browbeating aides and journalists.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is the lone Republican to oppose Kavanaugh. She didn’t cast a ballot for or against the nominee. Instead, Murkowski “paired” her vote with Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont. Daines backed Kavanaugh but couldn’t cast a ballot due his daughter’s wedding. So neither registered their view on the Senate floor. Still, President Trump and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) directed invective at Alaska’s senior senator.
New York Yankees fans were more gentle with Aaron Boone after some of his managerial decisions in the playoffs than some Republicans were with Murkowski.
“The Senate is no place for sissies,” said Murkowski. “The feelings are pretty raw.”
She added that Senate’s ebb “feels lower than any place I have ever been.”
Murkowski huddled with a scrum off reporters in the Senate Reception Room just off the floor after the historic confirmation vote. A reporter asked Murkowski what she thought about when listening to the screams from protesters, blasting senators as they cast their ballots inside the chamber.
“I was closing my eyes and praying,” said Murkowski. “Praying for them. Praying for us. I’m praying for the country. We need prayers. We need healing.”
Congress is a hemorrhaging gash right now, bleeding odium and hostility…..
Step back from the Kavanaugh cacophony. Examine what lawmakers from both parties in both chambers accomplished in September and early October, with virtually zero fanfare.
Amid the turmoil, Congress approved the first revamp of national aviation policy in years. The Senate approved the final version of the legislation 93-6. This came after a staggering six extensions due to bickering and disagreement.
Then, Congress approved a sweeping, bipartisan measure to combat opioid abuse. The House okayed the package 393-8. The Senate adopted the measure 98-1.
And, there was no government shutdown. The House and Senate came to terms on two bipartisan bills which funded five of the 12 annual spending bills which operate the government. The sides agreed to latch an additional measure to one of the spending plans to fund the remaining seven areas of federal spending through December 7. President Trump briefly threatened to force a government shutdown if lawmakers didn’t include money for his border wall in the plan. But the President ultimately punted that battle until December. Democrats praised Republicans for keeping conservative “poison pill” riders out of the appropriations bills. That decision drew Democratic support for the measures.
The Senate approved a bipartisan water and infrastructure package.
McConnell hailed the bipartisanship which descended upon the Senate – even as the senators fought over Kavanaugh. Nearly in the same breath, McConnell derided boisterous, anti-Kavanaugh protesters outside the Capitol as a “mob.”
McConnell insisted this week he needed the Senate to clear a slate of 15 conservative judges to lower courts before he could cut senators loose for the midterm elections. McConnell and Schumer appeared at loggerheads. McConnell’s goal was clear: extract the confirmation of these nominees – or tether to Washington vulnerable Democratic senators from battleground states to keep them off the campaign trail.
Schumer knew McConnell would ultimately prevail on the nominees after the midterms. So the New York Democrat accepted McConnell’s ransom, permitting the Senate vote on a slate of nominees on Thursday night. Schumer also extracted a concession from McConnell: send senators home until November 13th.
One may wonder how lawmakers can find themselves in an imbroglio over a major issue like Kavanaugh – yet forge major bipartisan accords on other. Frankly, that’s just politics. Politics always elicits strange bedfellows. Successful lawmakers know they should compartmentalize their disputes. The enemy today may be your best ally tomorrow.
That said, donnybrooks lie ahead. Consider the delay on the border wall. In a speech to the National Press Club, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., warned that the GOP would go to the mat during the lame duck Congress.
“We will have a fight over that,” said Ryan when asked about the wall. “We intend to have a full-fledged discussion on how to complete the mission at the border.”
Such a scenario could spark a government shutdown just before Christmas.
That may be. But the reality for Republicans and Democrats is that they need to work together to keep the government open – even if their policy priorities differ.
USCP Officer David Wilson stood nearby as Lisa Murkowski gaggled with reporters after the Kavanaugh confirmation vote. Wilson is well-known to Capitol Hill regulars, frequently posted just inside the Senate Carriage Entrance. Murkowski went over to Wilson and expressed her gratitude to him and other officers for their assistance during the Kavanaugh skirmish. Murkowski gave Wilson a big hug.
“They’re the best,” Murkowski said of the USCP force.
Lawmakers may not always get along. They may not always reach bipartisan common ground on big issues. Senate decorum may falter. Yet Murkowski’s gesture of appreciation to Wilson might reveal something below the surface. Perhaps everything on Capitol Hill hasn’t completely devolved. Yet.
Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.