Tag Archives: bipartisanship

Friendships honored along with a political icon

They buried a political icon today. I hope they did not bury the spirit of bipartisan friendships that this iconic figure embodied.

Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democratic member of Congress, died the other day of myriad medical complications. He served as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and became a leader in the debate over whether to impeach Donald J. Trump.

Cummings was a champion in the first degree. He fought for civil rights and also fought for civil political discourse.

As I listened to the tributes that poured in from across the political spectrum, I was struck by how much attention was paid to the honors paid by Republicans who served with Chairman Cummings. Given the nastiness that has poisoned the atmosphere in Washington over the course of time, it is instructive that so many Republicans would hail their personal affection and professional respect for this fierce Democratic politician.

One of them is Mark Meadows, a North Carolina GOP leader in the U.S. House Freedom Caucus. He is a fierce conservative. Yet he and Cummings were proud of their friendship. Meadows spoke of his love for his colleague while Cummings was lying in state on Capitol Hill — the first African-American politician to be accorded that honor. Former U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina wrote a moving op-ed for the Washington Post that spoke of the Republican’s affection and respect for Cummings.

Indeed, the ranks of strange political bedfellows is long. Former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a conservative Utah Republican, and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, a liberal Massachusetts Democrat, were famous for their friendship. Yes, there are many such relationships. Yet they flourish outside of the public eye.

When a politician of Cummings’ stature passes from the scene, it enables the nation to witness how these supposedly unlikely friendships have flourished even in the climate that can destroy them.

Elijah Cummings’ death saddens me. I am heartened, though, to see these exhibitions of love and respect that are coming from those with whom this good man had many fierce political battles.

It gives me a glimmer of hope that collegiality and political comity isn’t dead.

Is this alliance all that rare … really?

I continue to be struck by the surprise alliance reportedly formed with conservative Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and liberal Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

They supposedly are preparing to team up on legislation aimed at restricting, possibly eliminating, lawmakers who become corporate lobbyists. The budding Cruz-AOC Alliance has tongues a-wagging in Washington. Why, some folks just cannot believe that these two ferocious partisans could find common ground on anything.

But I guess they have. At least that’s my hope.

It’s not unprecedented by any stretch. Two former senators, liberal Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and the late conservative Republican John McCain of Arizona, teamed up on campaign finance reform measures that sought to put caps on the money raised in political campaigns.

Countless other alliances have been formed since the beginning of the republic. Indeed, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson needed Republican senators to help him enact voting rights and civil rights legislation in the 1960s, given the resistance he was getting from southern Democrats in the U.S. Senate. LBJ was able to parlay his bipartisan friendships into landmark legislation.

I get that there appears to be plenty of skeptics about the Cruz-AOC team. Righties doubt that Ocasio-Cortez will be actually reach out to Cruz and other Republicans; lefties are inherently suspicious of Cruz’s statements expressing support for any idea put forth by a progressive colleague.

What began as a Twitter conversation between these two highly partisan lawmakers well might bear fruit. Or … it could wither and die.

I’m going to hold out hope that Sen. Cruz and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez carry through on their pledge to begin draining the proverbial swamp.

Ted Cruz joins forces with AOC? What the … ?

As my dear ol’ Dad would say: I’ll be dipped in sesame seeds.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a hardline conservative, has joined forces with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an equally hardline progressive, on legislation aimed at banning former members of Congress from joining the lobbying ranks immediately after leaving office.

Who in the world knew?

Cruz put out a Twitter message that declared he actually agrees with an idea that AOC put out there, which is to ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists; at least, she said, the new law should require a lengthy waiting period.

I don’t think hell has frozen over, but it might be getting a bit chilly down there nonetheless.

This unlikely partnership demonstrates to me that bipartisanship is not a lost cause on Capitol Hill.

I’ve written often about my dislike for Sen. Cruz. As for AOC, well, she has annoyed me as well, given the undeserved spotlight she is getting as a rookie member of the House of Representatives.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted this: “If you are a member of Congress + leave, you shouldn’t be allowed to turn right around &leverage your service for a lobbyist check. I don’t think it should be legal at ALL to become a corporate lobbyist if you’ve served in Congress. At minimum there should be a long wait period.”

Cruz responded with this: “Here’s something I don’t say often: I agree with @AOC.” He said he has long favored a ban on lawmakers becoming lobbyists. He added this via Twitter: “The Swamp would hate it, but perhaps a chance for bipartisan cooperation.”

There you have it. Two lawmakers from extreme ends of the political spectrum have reached out, locked arms and decided on something on which they both have found common ground.

Indeed, lobbyists who walk away from the halls of power and begin working directly for corporate employers have built-in advantages over their colleagues/competitors. It ain’t fair, man!

AOC responded that she’s “down” with what Cruz has proposed as long as it doesn’t contain any partisan trickery. Cruz responded, “You’re on.”

This is a small step. It’s still an important one.

Democrats split over impeachment

So, here we are.

Congressional Democrats comprising the fiery left-wingers and the “establishment” wing are at each other’s throats over whether to impeach Donald John Trump.

The firebrands want to impeach the president now. They’ve heard and seen enough to persuade them that Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. Thus, it’s time to impeach — in the words of one of the House rookie Democratic bomb throwers — the “motherf*****!”

Oh, but wait. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is slamming the breaks on that move — at least for the moment. She opposes impeachment. Pelosi, one of the experienced hands on Capitol Hill, doesn’t want to go there.

“I’m not for impeachment,” she says.

Pelosi speaks wisely

I happen to agree with Pelosi. Yes, that’s right. Critics of this blog think I am frothing at the mouth to impeach the president. Not true.

I want to wait for special counsel Robert Mueller III to finish his job of investigating whether there was “collusion” between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russian government goons who attacked our electoral system.

Moreover, I also believe Pelosi’s mind can change if Mueller’s report reveals some impeachable nastiness. There’s also the Southern District of New York, the federal judicial district that is looking deeply into possible criminality. The SDNY also needs to finish its work as well before we should determine whether there are grounds to impeach Donald Trump.

But for now the speaker is speaking wise words of caution. She is a seasoned politician who knows if she has enough bipartisan support to proceed with impeaching the president. She has calculated that she doesn’t have it. Impeaching the president would be a loser for her and House Democrats.

Pelosi is a wise woman.

Just as Republican members of Congress engaged in fights between establishment politicians and TEA Party fanatics, Democrats are engaging in something quite similar at the other end of the big political spectrum.

The GOP establishment had the country’s best interests when it fought with the TEA Party over spending. The Democratic establishment has the upper hand over the issue of impeaching Donald Trump.

But . . . let’s wait.

It’s all about ‘compromise,’ Mr. President; sign the deal

I could swear on a stack of Bibles I heard Donald Trump say the word “compromise” during his State of the Union speech the other evening.

He mentioned it as one of the benchmarks he said he seeks to set as he and Congress look for ways to govern the United States of America.

So, we have a deal to avert a partial government shutdown. The deal contains some money for The Wall, but not the $5.7 billion Trump wanted. It contains some other perks and expenditures to stiffen security along our border.

Trump returned from his campaign rally in El Paso and said he is unhappy with what a bipartisan group of senators and House members cobbled together. He said he needed time to — cough, cough! — “study” the deal that has found its way to the White House.

Effective legislating almost always requires compromise, which means no one gets what they want fully. You have to give a little here and little there and then you come up with something that is mutually acceptable.

I believe that’s what we have in this deal. I wouldn’t consider it perfect, either.

However, it moves us along and gives everyone ample breathing room to consider longer-term repairs to whatever the hell it is that troubles them.

Sign the damn deal, Mr. President! You pledged to work toward a system of government that includes “compromise.” Here’s your chance to prove — for once! — that you’re a man of your word.

Where is the Texas Senate’s wise man?

I don’t know where he is at this very moment, but I cannot stop thinking about Bill Ratliff as I read about the tension building between two key players in the Texas Senate.

Ratliff served as lieutenant governor in the early 2000s. He was elevated to that post by his fellow state senators after Lt. Gov. Rick Perry moved into the governor’s office after the 2000 election of George W. Bush as president of the United States.

Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant in East Texas, was generally a revered political figure in the Texas Capitol. He enjoyed tremendous bipartisan support. Why is that? Because he didn’t govern with a heavy hand.

Ratliff must be grinding his teeth as he follows this stuff.

Oh, man. The mood in Austin is a whole lot different these days. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick not only has pi**** off his Democratic colleagues, he’s managing to antagonize his fellow Republicans. One of them is a fellow I’ve known quite well for more than two decades, Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo.

Patrick is telling the rest of the GOP Senate caucus the following messages: Do it my way . . . or else! The “or else” in Seliger’s case arrived when Patrick took away the chairmanship of the Higher Education Committee and removed Seliger from the Education and Finance committees. Patrick then threw Seliger a bone when he named him chair of the newly formed Agriculture Committee, a post that Seliger reportedly didn’t thrill him.

A Patrick aide said that if Seliger believed the Ag post was “beneath him” he could ask to be withdrawn and Patrick could appoint someone else. Seliger then told a Lubbock radio host — in so many words — that the aide could kiss his “rear end.”

Patrick then responded to that by yanking Seliger out of the Agriculture panel’s chairmanship post.

Imagine any of this occurring with Bill Ratliff as the Man of the Senate. I cannot wrap my head around that.

To be clear, I do not know Ratliff. I only know of him. Just as I don’t know Patrick, either, but I certainly know of this guy.

Patrick is playing hardball. He is using his considerable power to punish one of the Senate’s more senior members because the two of them don’t view the world through the same ideological prism.

Here is how the Texas Tribune sees this saga.

The Texas Senate used to have a tradition of bipartisanship. The lieutenant governor used to govern with an eye toward enlisting support from the minority party’s senators. To think that a lieutenant governor — whether Democrat or Republican — would punish a member of his own caucus has been a heretofore unthinkable occurrence.

I wish we could find another Bill Ratliff out there somewhere. They didn’t call him “Obi-Wan Kenobie,” the wise man from “Star Wars,” for nothing.

McConnell now seeks ‘bipartanship’?

Mitch McConnell’s lack of self-awareness takes my breath away.

The U.S. Senate majority leader has penned an op-ed in the Washington Post that demands that congressional Democrats “work with us” instead of putting “partisan politics ahead of country.”

Interesting, yes? You bet it is!

Let’s review part of the record for just a brief moment.

  • McConnell once declared his intention to make Barack H. Obama a “one-term president.” In fact, he said it would be his No. 1 priority while leading the Senate Republican caucus.
  • He has remained shamefully silent about Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
  • This is my favorite: McConnell said that he would not allow President Obama to nominate anyone to replace the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He made that proclamation mere hours after Justice Scalia died in Texas. Obama nominated Merrick Garland to succeed Scalia, but McConnell would not allow even a hearing to examine Garland’s exemplary judicial credentials. Obama was in the final full year of the presidency and McConnell gambled — successfully, it turned out — on the hope that a Republican would win the 2016 presidential election.

This Senate Republican leader now accuses Democrats of “playing politics” over The Wall and causing the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Astonishing. I need to catch my breath.

That didn’t hurt so much, right, senators?

Eighty-seven to 12.

That was the vote on a measure backed by Donald John Trump to overhaul the federal criminal justice sentencing system. It passed through the U.S. Senate with tremendous bipartisan support.

I trust it didn’t hurt senators who decided to side with the president on this one.

It is a solid piece of legislation that I trust will win House support this week and will go to the president’s desk for his signature.

It has drawn support from across the political spectrum. The American Civil Liberties Union likes it along with many conservative organizations.

My favorite element in the bill is the relaxing of federal sentencing guidelines. Current law requires federal judges to impose mandatory sentences even on those convicted of non-violent drug offenses. The overhaul gives federal judges the flexibility that is granted their colleagues in state judicial systems across the nation.

The president is right to push this legislation through. Those who joined him are showing some much-needed compromise and a bipartisan spirit that has been lacking in Congress dating back for many years preceding Trump’s time as president.

The 12 “no” votes, by the way, came from Senate Republicans who stuck by the same tired old system that too often sends people to prison who really don’t deserve to be there.

Here’s hoping for full enactment of this reform.

McConnell wants what? Bipartisanship? For real?

I gave myself one of those proverbial forehead slaps when I heard this tidbit: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants there to be more “bipartisanship” in the next Congress.

Huh? He said what? This comes in the form of an op-ed column from the obstructionist in chief on Capitol Hill?

It took my breath away.

This is the fellow who said in 2010: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Uh, huh. He said that. The 2012 presidential election, of course, dashed Leader McConnell’s dream. President Obama won re-election.

Then came the congressional Republican caucuses singular effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They staged countless votes in the Senate and the House. They came up short. Who led the charge? Mitch did, that’s who.

And then we had the obstruction to end all obstructions in early 2016. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon on the court, died suddenly in Texas. Justice Scalia’s body had barely gotten cold when McConnell declared that President Obama would not get the chance to replace him.

Oh sure, the president can nominate someone, McConnell said, but Republicans were not going to move the nomination forward. Obama nominated federal Judge Merrick Garland — a supremely qualified man — only to watch his nomination wither and die. We had a presidential election to conclude and McConnell banked on the hope that a Republican would be elected. His gamble paid off with Donald Trump’s election.

Now the majority leader wants a more bipartisan atmosphere on Capitol Hill.

Pardon me while I bust out laughing.

The next Congress will be split. Democrats will control the House; Republicans will lead the Senate. Bipartisanship certainly is the preferred way to govern.

That such a call would come from the U.S. Senate’s leading obstructionist gives “gall” a bad name.

Longing for a return of bipartisan ceremony

I cannot remember the last time I saw a president posing for pictures with politicians of both major political parties.

You remember those days, right? President Lyndon Johnson signed landmark civil rights legislation into law, and handed pens out to Republicans and Democrats gathered around him.

President Richard Nixon did the same thing with, say, creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Same with President Ronald Reagan as he signed significant tax legislation.

President Bill Clinton worked hand in glove with Republican congressional leaders to balance the federal budget and both sides sought to take credit for that noble achievement. Fine. Let ’em!

I remember the time not long after 9/11 when GOP President George W. Bush embraced Democratic Senate Leader Tom Daschle on the floor of the House after delivering a speech that called the nation to arms after the terror attacks.

These days, presidents are photographed only with pols of their own parties. President Barack Obama would be photographed at bill signings only with Democrats. The current president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, meets almost exclusively with Republicans and wouldn’t be caught dead sharing space with Democrats.

Legislating is a team sport. Teamwork often requires pols of both parties to work together.

We see so little of it these days, and indeed over the course of at least two presidential administrations. Republicans and Democrats have declared the other guys to be the enemy. They aren’t just mere opponents.

It’s a toxic time in Washington, D.C. It is threatening to poison the system for far longer than can possibly benefit the cause of good government.