Tag Archives: US Senate

Democracy at its messiest best

The great British statesman Winston Churchill had it right when he described representative democracy as an inefficient, clumsy and messy form government, but better than any other form that had devised.

We’re witnessing it in its messiest form right now.

Congress and the president are locking horns over spending for a wall along our southern border. Donald Trump wants money to pay for the wall, although he initially promised he would make Mexico pay for it. That won’t happen.

Failure to pay for the wall would result in a partial shutdown of the government at midnight Friday. Merry Christmas, to thousands of federal employees who will not be paid for the time they are being forced to take away from work.

I am just one of those Americans who doesn’t quite understand why we reach this precipice every few months. Why in the world must we subject ourselves to this kind of melodrama? Why do Congress and the White House fail continually to provide long-term budgets that allow them to avoid this kind of brinksmanship?

The president has his constituency. Each member of Congress — 435 House members and 100 senators — answers to his or her own constituencies. They fight. They wrangle. They haggle. They argue. They threaten each other. They toss insults. And all the while the government that is supposed to serve all Americans is being kicked around like some kind of cow chip.

We don’t need to build a wall to secure our southern border. The president doesn’t seem to get that. He wants the wall because he made some idiotic campaign promise. Congressional Democrats want to secure the border through other means.

At last report, the White House indicates that Trump is backing away from the wall. The impasse remains.

Churchill was right about representative democracy. So help me, though, it doesn’t need to be this messy.

Sentencing reform might get trampled by Trump woes

I have a concern about a seriously important proposal from Donald Trump that might fall victim to the mounting legal troubles that are piling up around the White House.

The president has pitched a notion that needs congressional attention and approval. It is a plan to reform federal sentencing guidelines, giving federal judges some needed flexibility in sentencing defendants, particularly those who are convicted of non-violent drug crimes.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given the green light to legislation that would advance those reforms. Let’s hope it goes all the way.

I support fully the proposal that Trump has put forth, but my concern now is that it might get lost as Washington, D.C., gets swallowed up by the myriad legal difficulties arising from the Russia probe and questions about alleged conspiracy, collusion and campaign finance violations.

Federal judges have been hamstrung by mandatory sentencing policies. They have damn little flexibility in determining the sentences they can give to those convicted of federal crimes.

The president wants to change that policy. Indeed, he recently commuted the sentence of a woman who had spent too much time in prison even though she was a non-violent offender. Trump acted on a request from that noted prison reformer (and reality TV star) Kim Kardashian West. It was the right call.

Trump intends to reform the entire sentencing system, to which I say, “Go for it, Mr. President.”

I just don’t want it swept away in the rip tide that is developing over these other — increasingly dire — legal matters.

You go, Mme. Speaker . . . to-be

Nancy Pelosi has delivered a message to Donald Trump.

It is that the president of the United States is going to face a formidable adversary when the next Congress convenes in January 2019. The presumptive speaker of the House delivered that message in a face-to-face smackdown with the president in an Oval Office meeting the two of them had with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Oh, Vice President Mike Pence was in the room, too, but he had a “non-speaking” role in this idiotic and awkward exchange.

Pelosi, a California Democrat, informed Trump he doesn’t have the votes in the House to finance the “big beautiful wall” along our southern border. Trump sought to tell her that he does; she responded — immediately — no, Mr. President . . . you do not!

Pelosi is an expert at vote-counting, which was one of the hallmarks of her first stint as speaker from 2009 to 2011.

Trump, meanwhile, doesn’t know how the legislative process works. He has no background in congressional relationships. He doesn’t understand the importance of seeking to cooperate with the legislative branch of government.

The president’s modus operandi is to dictate his desires and then expect everyone to follow him over the cliff.

The new speaker isn’t wired that way. She’s tough and she is asserting herself as she should.

Let us remember something else: The U.S. Constitution stipulates that the speaker of the House is No. 3 in succession to the presidency. It’s good to remember that as we enter the new year — and a new era — in Washington, D.C.

Impeachment: full of land mines, ready to explode

Our nation’s founders had plenty of flaws. They were damn smart, though, when crafting a governing document that sought to create a “more perfect Union.”

One of their nearly perfect notions was to set the bar for impeaching and removing a president quite high. It’s a two-step process.

The U.S. House of Representatives can impeach a president with a simple majority. Then it gets a lot harder.

The U.S. Senate would put the president on trial, but to convict a president the Senate needs 67 out of 100 votes.

That’s a high bar . . . by design.

Thus, I respect the presumed next House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to argue against impeachment. Why? Because the Senate seems to lack the votes to convict Donald Trump of anything the House would argue. Therefore, Pelosi — as shrewd a vote counter as anyone — isn’t going to put her reputation on the line by stampeding an impeachment proceeding through the House without some assurance that the Senate would follow up with a conviction.

Trump reportedly is telling aides he believes the next House — to be controlled by Democrats — will launch a bum’s rush toward impeachment in 2019. I am not so sure about that.

Pelosi is not going to follow the exhibit shown by another former speaker who whipsawed the House into impeaching a president. Newt Gingrich was speaker in 1998 when the House impeached President Clinton. The Senate acquitted Clinton on all the charges. Gingrich was left looking like a fool.

Nancy Pelosi does not want history to repeat itself.

Tough to watch Sen. Dole

The scene was almost too much to bear.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, a World War II hero of the first order, needed help to stand while he saluted the casket carrying his one time political rival, former President (and fellow World War II hero) George H.W. Bush.

Dole is a very old man now. His body is betraying him. He was pushed in a wheelchair toward the 41st president’s casket. To watch this great man struggle to stand — at attention! — while he paid tribute to the president tore hard at my heart.

Oh, I remember the day when Sen. Dole was known as a political pit bull. He ran as vice presidential running mate to President Ford on the 1976 Republican ticket. Do you remember when he referred –during a vice-presidential debate with Sen. Walter Mondale — to World War II, Korea and Vietnam as “Democrat wars”?

Then in 1988, he competed for the GOP presidential nomination against Vice President Bush, the same man he saluted today under the Capitol Dome. On a split TV screen, he said through a scowl that the VP should “stop lying about my record.”

In 1996, Dole became the Republican presidential nominee but lost in a landslide to President Clinton, who won re-election that year.

But before all that, Sen. Dole was a young soldier fighting for his country against the Nazis. In 1945, near the end of World War II, the young soldier was wounded grievously while trying to rescue another Army infantryman. He would lose the use of his right arm as a result of his wound. It didn’t stop him from pursuing a long and distinguished career in politics.

To watch him, then, struggle today and then lift his left hand to salute his former rival, well . . . it broke my heart.

Sen. Dole, too, is part of the Greatest Generation. He is a man to whom we all owe a debt of eternal gratitude for helping turn back the tyrants and for his decades of continued public service for the nation he cherishes.

I, Robert Francis ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, do solemnly swear . . . ‘

Roll that around in your mouth a time or three, maybe four.

Might it be what we hear in Jan. 20, 2021 at the next presidential inauguration? Some progressive pundits and pols are hoping it happens. I remain dubious, but perhaps a little less so than I was immediately after Beto O’Rourke lost his bid to become the next U.S. senator from Texas.

O’Rourke came within a couple of percentage points of upsetting Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. For a Democrat to come within a whisker of beating a GOP Texas politician has many on the left still all agog.

O’Rourke has changed his tune. He said the Senate race was 100 percent on his mind. He now says he is not ruling out anything. That he might be a presidential candidate in 2020. He’s going to take some time with his wife, Amy, and the three kids he featured prominently in his 2018 Senate campaign to ponder his future.

O’Rourke’s congressional term ends in early January. He’ll return home to El Paso and give thought to running for the highest office in America.

My desire for the Democratic Party remains for it to find a candidate lurking in the tall grass that no one has heard of. Beto no longer fits that description. He became a national phenomenon with his narrow loss to the Cruz Missile.

He’ll keep fighting Donald Trump’s desire to build a wall along our southern border; he’ll fight for comprehensive immigration reform. He said he plans to stay in the game. He plans to have his voice heard.

He might want to parlay his immense national political star status into a legitimate campaign for the presidency. My hope is that is he stays on the sidelines for 2020. However, in case he decides to take the plunge into extremely deep political water . . . well, I’m all in.

Beto seeking to channel Honest Abe?

I already have declared my belief that Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke shouldn’t run for president of the United States in 2020. My belief is that he doesn’t yet have the seasoning or the experience to take on such a monstrous responsibility.

But then . . .

A thought occurs to me.

Another American politician lost a bitter campaign to the U.S. Senate and two years later he, too, was elected president.

Abraham Lincoln, anyone?

Lincoln ran for the Senate from Illinois, but lost to Stephen A. Douglas in 1858. The failed Senate candidate already had served in the U.S. House, but decided to push for higher office.

Having lost that bid, Lincoln licked his wounds — and then decided to go for an even bigger prize in 1860. That year he was elected president, but after he was nominated by the Republican National Convention on the third ballot. It was a struggle to win the party nomination. Lincoln’s presidency would prove to be the ultimate trial by fire, with the nation ripped apart by the Civil War.

OK, let’s hit the fast-forward button for a moment.

Does this sound like a scenario that Beto O’Rourke might follow were he to declare his own presidential candidacy? Democratic party activists and big-money donors say they want him to consider it. They like the young man’s energy and the passion he infuses into his supporters. He damn near beat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in heavily Republican Texas earlier this month and that has Democrats all agog over his future.

The Washington Post reports that O’Rourke’s near-success in Texas has turned the Democratic primary outlook into a chaotic mess.

O’Rourke, who’s finishing his term as a congressman from El Paso, will enter private life and just might consider whether to make the plunge yet again, only reaching for the very top rung on the ladder.

Or . . . he might decide to take on Texas’s senior U.S. senator, John Cornyn, in 2020.

I remain a bit dubious about O’Rourke’s presidential timbre.

However, I am somewhat heartened to realize that there’s precedent for what the young man might decide to do. If he hears the voice calling him to run for the Big Job, he might do well to look back on Honest Abe’s effort two-plus centuries ago. It might give him the strength to plunge ahead.

Senate GOP to Trump: Find a new AG … quickly!

It seems that the Senate Republican caucus — which heretofore in the era of Donald Trump had been a routinely spineless group — apparently has stiffened its backbone a bit.

This is good news … if the stiffening continues.

GOP senators are urging the president to find a permanent attorney general nominee in short order. They apparently are unhappy with the controversy that has erupted over the president’s choice of Matthew Whitaker to be acting AG after Jeff Sessions got fired a week ago.

Whitaker was elevated from the No. 3 post at the Justice Department, hurdling over the No. 2 man, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who’s heading special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government operatives.

There’s a problem, however. Whitaker hasn’t been approved by the Senate; what’s more, he’s been openly critical of the Mueller probe, calling it a “witch hunt” and a “fishing expedition.”

Senators seem intent on ensuring that Mueller is allowed to complete his task. They don’t place much stock in Whitaker’s promise to ensure the completion of the Russia investigation by Mueller.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, is among the leaders pushing for a quick AG nomination. He doesn’t believe Whitaker should be the acting attorney general for very long.

I happen to concur with all of that. I also am heartened by the seeming newfound courage being exhibited by a few Senate Republicans. Granted, they aren’t likely to lock arms with their Democratic “friends” and colleagues in the Senate, but they just might be moving closer to their friends across the aisle than they were before.

Matthew Whitaker shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the Mueller investigation. If he had any sense of propriety, he would recuse himself from the Mueller matter … even if it angers the president, just as Sessions did when he bowed out of the Russia probe.

Did Cruz and O’Rourke bury the hatchet?

This story makes me smile and gives me hope about the future of political debate and discourse in the United States of America.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke — who have just completed a fiery-hot campaign for Cruz’s Senate seat — bumped into each other at George Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport. O’Rourke, who lost narrowly to Cruz, initiated the contact between them. They spoke cordially for some time, talking about how they can “move forward” from the election that just ended.

According to Click2HoustonTexas A&M student Tiffany Easter witnessed the moment and posted a recap on her Facebook and Twitter pages Tuesday.

In her Facebook post, Easter said she was waiting to board a flight to Washington when she noticed that both O’Rourke and Cruz were about to board the same flight.

“Beto noticed Ted sitting down and walked over to congratulate him on his re-election campaign,” Easter wrote. “It was the first time they had seen each other since the election, and the entire conversation was both of them talking about how they could move forward together.”

This makes me smile because the campaign the men waged was among the more aggressive in the country. It drew national attention, given the closeness of the contest.

I suppose one could have expected the men to maybe shake hands, nod at each other and then part company. They didn’t.

Their cordial encounter gives me a glimmer of hope that even the most intense political opponents can realize that politics is just part of who they are and what they do.

Vets could bring a return to congressional collegiality

I long have lamented and bemoaned the lack of collegiality in the halls of Congress. Political adversaries become “enemies.” They drift farther and father apart, separated by a deepening chasm between them.

There might be a return to what we think of as “collegiality” and “comity” in the halls of power on Capitol Hill.

It might rest with a large and hopefully growing class of military veterans seeking to serve the public in a political capacity.

They have shared experiences. They know the pain of loss of comrades in battle. They endure similar stresses associated with their time in battle.

I posted earlier today a blog item about U.S. Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw, a wounded Navy SEAL who is among 15 veterans elected to Congress in this past week’s midterm election. Crenshaw is a Republican from Houston. I don’t know the partisan composition of the congressional freshman class of veterans. It doesn’t matter. My hunch is that they are going to find plenty of commonality once they settle into their new jobs and get acquainted with each other’s history.

The Greatest Generation returned home from World War II and the men who served in the fight against tyranny developed amazing friendships when they found themselves serving under the same Capitol Dome.

Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii became lifelong friends with Republican Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas; they both suffered grievous injuries in Italy near the end of the war, went to rehab together and developed a friendship that lasted until Inouye’s death. There were so many others. Fellow aviators, Democratic Sen. George McGovern and Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater became friends for life, as did Sens. McGovern and Dole.

The Korean War produced its own crop of veterans who entered political life together.

Then there is the Vietnam War generation, which also featured lasting friendships that transcended partisan politics. GOP Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. John Kerry worked together to help restore diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey and Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel both represented their native Nebraska in the Senate, serving briefly together on Capitol Hill. Former Vietnam prisoners of war found commonality: Sen. Jeremiah Denton, Rep. Sam Johnson, Sen. McCain — all Republicans — were among that particular clique of lawmakers with a special bond.

The latest class of vets joins a cadre of veterans already serving in Congress. Democratic Sen. (and double amputee) Tammie Duckworth is among the most notable.

There always is much more to life than politics. My hope now is that the new crop of vets find a way to lead the way back toward a more civil era in Congress. I pray they can find a way to bridge the chasm that divides men and women of good will.

I am filled with a new sense of hope that these individuals with common life experience can cleanse the air of the toxicity that has poisoned it in Washington.