Can this congressman promote Capitol Hill unity?

Steve Scalise is back at work.

His office is on Capitol Hill. He is a Republican member of Congress from Louisiana. Rep. Scalise also serves in a leadership position with the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives.

He has been away from the office for a while. You see, Scalise was nearly shot to death earlier this summer while practicing for a congressional baseball game along with his fellow Republican caucus teammates.

Scalise was rushed to the hospital. His condition became critical. His bullet wounds caused immense internal bleeding.

But now, thank goodness, he is recovering. He walks with crutches. He is unsteady on his feet. This past week, though, he walked onto the floor of the House to a thunderous ovation from a packed chamber of his colleagues.

And that brings me to the point of this blog post.

The tears of joy flowed across both sides of the partisan aisle. Democrats cried and cheered along with Republicans. Their friend and colleague was back. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, took the floor to proclaim her joy at Scalise’s return and credited jokingly that his “Italian heritage” — which Pelosi shares — enabled him to return to work after suffering such grievous wounds.

So, the question emerges: Was this bipartisan joyous welcome a harbinger of a potentially new era on Capitol Hill?

It might be said that such a “new era” would in fact be a return to an older time, when Ds and Rs got along after hours. They were just political adversaries, not enemies.

Scalise said on a “60 Minutes” episode broadcast tonight that he doesn’t believe Republicans and Democrats are that far apart on many key issues. He wouldn’t predict a return to a more civil atmosphere under the Capitol Dome, but he sounded mildly hopeful that his near-tragedy well might signal a return to the collegiality that’s been missing for far too long in Washington, D.C.

Can unity return?

Americans of all stripes should hail the recovery of Rep. Scalise. We all should welcome the tremendous affection demonstrated on the floor of the House when he made his dramatic return to work.

Let us hope it does signal a renewed spirit of unity.

Trump humiliates Tillerson

You’re the secretary of state, the top diplomat for the United States of America.

You are involved in discussions with officials from another great power, China, about what to do about North Korea and its desire to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal. Then you let it be known that you’ve opened “direct line” to North Korea.

That’s progress — yes? — in this game of diplomatic chicken we’ve been playing with the reclusive and dangerous communist regime in North Korea.

Then the president of the United States — your boss — fires off some tweets that says you’re “wasting your time” in seeking talks with North Korea.

Trump declared in a tweet that the United States is keeping its military options open. The president said: “Save your energy, Rex, we’ll do what has to be done.” Huh? What the … ?

There you have it. The president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, has undermined once again the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. He has blistered his top diplomat publicly for seeking a constructive solution to a growing crisis that has no realistic military solution.

What’s the upshot of this? According to the Washington Post: “Humiliating for Tillerson, but worse, renders him useless. He’ll resign, today or after a brief face-saving interval,” predicted former Obama administration ambassador and National Security Council official Dan Shapiro, one of many foreign policy experts who tweeted about Trump’s Sunday comments, sent from his New Jersey golf club.

Read more from the Post here.

Should the secretary of state quit over this latest insult? You know, if it were me — and I’m just speaking for myself — I cannot imagine how Secretary Tillerson can tolerate this kind of continuing public humiliation from the president of the United States.

O.J. out of prison … what now?

Orenthal James Simpson no longer is locked up in a Nevada prison, but he’s hardly what you’d call a “free man.”

The former college and pro football star served a nine-year prison sentence on an array of charges stemming from an altercation he had with some guys over possession of some football memorabilia.

But … then there’s that other crime with which he’ll be associated until the end of time. His former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were stabbed to death in 1994. Simpson was the prime suspect. Police arrested him and charged him with double murder.

What ensued next was the most overexposed, overcovered and overhyped trial of the 20th century. Jurors heard months of testimony and after four hours of deliberation, they acquitted Simpson of killing the two victims.

Oh, it doesn’t end there.

Nicole and Ron’s families — the Browns and Goldmans — filed a civil suit. Another jury ruled that Simpson was “liable” for their deaths. They awarded them $33.5 million in damages.

Then came the scrape that put The Juice behind bars.

The Browns and Goldmans have been unable to collect anything from Simpson during his time in prison. His NFL pension is protected. The Hall of Famer couldn’t work, quite obviously, while he was locked up.

O.J. gets parole

Well, now he’s out. He’s free to earn some outside income apart from his pension if he’s so inclined. The question now becomes: Will the Goldmans and the Browns renew their quest for some semblance of the cash that the jury awarded them when they found Simpson liable for the gruesome deaths?

Don’t expect them to collect all of it. And at this point, I wouldn’t even bet on them getting any of it, given Simpson’s proclivity for hiring top-drawer legal advice. I mean, his criminal defense team got him acquitted of the murders despite overwhelming circumstantial and physical evidence that he committed that hideous crime.

My own wish is that O.J. Simpson vanishes from the public stage. It’s not likely to happen, given the ubiquitous nature of social media and this guy’s lust for attention.

Another wish would be for Simpson to make good on his post-acquittal promise to search for as long as it takes to find Nicole and Ron’s killer.

Oh … wait!

Trump to NFL players: Stand for anthem, or else?

Donald J. Trump is sounding like he’s issuing some sort of veiled threat against pro football players who don’t stand for the National Anthem.

My question is this: What’s he going to do about it?

According to The Associated Press: Amid a series of tweets Saturday against criticism of the federal response to hurricane damage in Puerto Rico, the president returned to the world of sports and society: “Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!”

AP is reporting that the president won’t tolerate any further protests by these athletes.

What’s the next step? Is the president going to declare martial law and suspend the rights of the athletes to protest what they believe is racial inequality in the enforcement of the law? Lest we forget, that is the original object of the players’ protests that began this past season when quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled while the anthem was being played.

I just wish the president would stick to more important and relevant matters. I can think of quite a few: North Korea, tax reform and, oh yeah, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands devastation brought by Hurricane Maria.

Here is what House Speaker Paul Ryan said, according to the AP:

“I do really believe his heart’s in the right place,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“I think what matters is that we have to show people that we are an inclusive society, that we want everyone to succeed,” he said. Ryan also acknowledged that the original point of the player demonstration — racial injustice and police mistreatment of African-Americans — has become obscured by the narrower issue of how to act during the anthem.

“I think we should just have separate and distinct conversations. Because when you merge it into the flag and the anthem, it’s lost,” Ryan said.

Put another way: This story has spiraled out of control.

‘Texting’ becomes second nature … more or less!

I am going to brag just a little.

I’ve been quite dismissive and downright derisive of many aspects of “social media” over the years. Texting is one of those aspects that has drawn my most serious level of scorn. Some members of my family have heard me declare that I cannot say the word “text” in its verb form without adding a certain level of derision in my voice.

Indeed, I pepper this blog with such references when I use the term in that form.

Why the boast? Well, it’s that I am getting fairly proficient these days at texting. I once imposed a six-word limit on messages sent via this medium. I must confess here and now that I routinely go beyond that limit, but not by much.

I do, though, find that I’ve achieved a certain comfort level in communicating in that fashion when I have something of importance I want to say to someone. For instance, I sent a message to a gentleman informing him that my wife and I will be taking our fifth wheel RV on an extended trip soon. This fellow pulls it out of its parking slot in the garage where we store our RV. I needed 12 whole words to convey the message.

Also, I want to stipulate that I will never, not ever, converse with someone using this medium. At my advancing age, I find myself still relying on more conventional methods of conversation, such as picking up the telephone and calling someone. I also have been known to go to someone’s place of employment or even their home to converse with them, face to face. I do know individuals who like to “chat” with someone using their texting device.

No conversational ‘texting’ will be done, promise

I suppose this is my way of acknowledging that I am advancing farther into the 21st century, along with my sons, my daughter-in-law and my grandkids. I hear jokes all the time about how smart others’ pre-school grandkids know more about modern technology than their elders do. My wife and I are rapidly approaching the realm of those who have such technological wunderkinds in their family; little Emma — our 4-year-old granddaughter — is showing the faint first signs of being able to solve technology problems for us when they occur.

As long as I stay within my comfort zone, though, I’ll be all right. I plan to cling tightly to it as I text friends and family members.

Here’s the deal, though: That comfort zone seems to be expanding.

Who knew?

Let us revisit ‘term limits’

The calls for mandating term limits for members of the U.S. House and Senate have become a bit muted in recent years.

That’s fine with me. I’ve never quite understood the notion of requiring public servants to step aside after a certain set time established through federal statute or constitutional amendment.

The issue keeps recurring every so often. It well might again in the 2018 midterm election that will decide every one of 435 U.S. House seats and one-third of the seats in the 100-member U.S. Senate.

I dug up a 2013 article in USA Today that noted that the 113th Congress was the most “inexperienced” in nearly two decades.

As USA Today noted about that Congress: A confluence of factors — from a trio of wave elections, redistricting, divisive primaries to even death — kick off a 113th Congress populated by junior lawmakers in both chambers that challenges the conventional wisdom that Washington politics is dominated by entrenched incumbents.

Nearly two in five lawmakers in the U.S. House, 39%, have served for less than three years, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Cook Political Report. It’s the least experienced House since at least 1995, when an election wave swept the Republicans into power.

Read the rest of the USA Today article here.

That was just four years ago. The turnover on Capitol Hill has continued at about the same pace.

It brings to mind the Congress that took office in 1995. The election the previous year had swept out dozens of incumbents as the Republican insurgents took control of both legislative houses for the first time in 40 years. One of the upstart freshmen that year was a young self-described “recovering lawyer” named Mac Thornberry, who became the Texas Panhandle’s representative.

Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican, is still in the House. He campaigned as a champion of the Contract With America, the GOP platform that pledged a lot of radical changes. One of them was mandated term limits. Thornberry never imposed any such limit on himself; he has voted in favor of every failed attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution to require term limits for members of Congress.

Frankly, I’ve never faulted him for remaining in Congress all this time … even though I detest his general governing philosophy.

Indeed, any member of Congress who does a lousy job or who doesn’t represent his constituents’ interests will hear from them on Election Day. The voters have the power to impose their own brand of term limits on their elected representatives.

Moreover, is inexperience a good thing when it comes to running the federal government? Hmm. Let me think about that.

Oh, yeah. We’ve got a political novice in the White House at this very moment. The president took office after spending his entire professional life seeking to fatten his financial portfolio. He had zero public service experience before taking office. He is learning a hard lesson that governing isn’t nearly the same as running a business empire.

I believe, therefore, that government experience is vital.

The upcoming midterm election is going to turn on a lot of factors. Term limits might return as a top-drawer political issue. Fine. Let’s have that debate. I likely won’t budge from my long-held belief that we already have term limits. We call them “elections.”

***

Here’s what I wrote five years ago about this very issue:

Term limits? We already have them

 

‘Fine-tuned machine’ keeps misfiring

I saw a graphic a day or two ago that I found quite stunning.

I mean, didn’t Donald J. Trump describe his administration running like a “fine-tuned machine”? The graphic showed the long and growing list of senior administration aides who’ve resigned or been terminated.

National security adviser Michael Flynn, FBI Director James Comey, two communications directors (Michael Dubke and Anthony “Mooch” Scaramucci), HHS Secretary Tom Price, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, press secretary Sean Spicer, senior political strategist Stephen K. Bannon. I know I’m missing someone, but you get the idea.

The fine-tuned machine has yet to produce a significant legislative victory for the president. It came up on the short end of an Alabama Republican Party primary race this week in which the other guy defeated the man Trump had endorsed. The Republican-led U.S. Senate gave up on its effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act; oh, and by the way, the deadline for getting Senate approval with a simple majority is going to arrive in just a couple of hours.

Trump botched his response to the Charlottesville riot, fueling suspicions about racist sentiments within the White House.

The chaos continues. The president seems to relish it. He welcomes it. He demands it.

Trump’s response to helping stricken citizens in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands has come under question. He has responded with tweets that have criticized the mayor of San Juan, P.R. Sheesh, man!

Oh, and now the president is up to his eyeballs in a feud with the National Football League over players who “take a knee” while the National Anthem is being played. They’re protesting police conduct, but Trump has yanked that argument toward whether pro football players are “disrespecting the flag and the U.S. Constitution.”

Is this the way a “fine-tuned machine” operates?

I, um, think not.

How can Trump blunder this part of his job?

The president of the United States takes an oath of office that implies a lot of unwritten responsibilities in addition to those that are explicitly laid out.

One of those tasks the president assumes is to lend aid, comfort, empathy and understanding to Americans in trouble. The president at this moment has a huge undertaking on his hands. It rests on island territories not terribly far from the east coast of the United States.

Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have been decimated by Hurricane Maria. Local officials there are pleading for more help. Yes, they are critical of the president’s public response to their pleas. So, what does Donald John Trump do in response? He fires off tweets that place much of the blame for the islands’ troubles … on the islands themselves.

Such as this one: “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”

It doesn’t stop there. The president takes public note of Puerto Rico’s debt problems that existed prior to Maria’s violent arrival and wonders aloud just how the federal government is going to be able to provide all the assistance that local authorities are seeking.

Trump ignites Twitter tirade

As The Hill reports: “San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz held an emotional press conference Friday ripping the Trump administration’s efforts to assist the island.

“I will do what I never thought I was going to do. I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency,” she said.

Trump responds to that with more criticism of the mayor. Empathy? Compassion? They appear to be MIA. He’s effectively making himself — big surprise, eh? — the center of this story.

The president’s team keeps telling us he’s “a fighter,” that he doesn’t like getting hit. So, when someone throws a rhetorical punch at him, he’s going to punch back. Does it matter to Trump that the person in this instance who’s throwing punches is desperate for federal aid to save the island where she lives and the city she governs? Quite obviously no.

I’ll reiterate yet again that the president is failing to fulfill the unwritten part of his job description. He’s not lending aid and comfort to his constituents who need help. He’s inflaming an already-critical situation with heartless rhetoric.

Shameful.