Republicans, who have held the House, Senate and White House for more than six months, left for an August vacation with no major legislation to show, just as President Donald Trump — at his New Jersey golf club for 17 days — is obsessed with the Russia collusion probe that is functioning so efficiently in the swamp that a grand jury is issuing subpoenas.
“The Russia story is a total fabrication. It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics,” Trump said at a rally on Thursday in Huntington, West Virginia.
“It just makes them feel better when they have nothing else to talk about,” he told the crowd, part of his political base.
There is nothing phony about the Russia investigations led by Robert Mueller and four congressional panels — chaired by Republicans — or serial dysfunction in the Trump White House struggling with a Republican-led Congress hobbled by splinters within their own ranks.
Let’s take a snapshot at dysfunction/function in Washington as the town empties out for summer break — as Mueller’s team expands its investigation, following a multitude of leads.
Ironic Function: At last, an issue uniting Democrats and Republicans
In later July, before leaving for an August vacation, the Senate, on a 98-2 roll call and the House, on a 419-3 vote – decided to handcuff Trump’s ability to cut sanctions on Russia. Faced with overwhelming veto-proof majorities — and no stomach for humiliation — Trump had no choice but to sign the bill.
“By including restrictions on the president’s actions in the sanctions bill, both Democrats and Republicans have indicated that, when it comes to Russia, they do not trust the president — and that could have ramifications as the many investigations of his campaign unfold,” writes Brookings’ Elaine Kamarck, who served in the Clinton administration.
Obamacare Dysfunction: Republicans stymied
Nothing has moved so far on health care, taxes, infrastructure, budget and the debt ceiling. Trump and Republicans campaigned on the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, and after passing the House, advancement stalled in the Senate because of the “no” votes of three Republicans: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona, who denied Republicans the majority needed.
“You have to do it,” Trump said in Huntington.
No, Congress does not have to take orders from a weak president.
This is dysfunction within the GOP family, which foreshadows 2018 political problems for Republicans heading into the midterms. Policy-wise — this health care insurance deadlock, if it leads to bipartisan fixes of serious Obamacare problems — can lead to a positive outcome. Long shot, but it’s on the table.
In a joint interview with CNN’s Dana Bash televised on Friday, Collins and Murkowski took the longer view — that dysfunction could lead to function.
Murkowski said that after the vote McCain told them, “Maybe our colleagues are not going to be viewing this as a positive right now. But time will prove that having a pause, having a time out for us to do better is going to be good for the country.”
Trump White House Dysfunction No. 1: The Kelly factor
Trump’s new chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, has been using his power and installing some military-style chain of command order. He ousted Anthony Scaramucci from his communications chief perch on Day One, swift damage control after the “Mooch” gave a foolish interview laced with profanities to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza.
Kelly assured Attorney General Jeff Sessions Trump won’t fire him, even as Trump remains angry at him for recusing himself in the Russian meddling probe.
Trump White House Dysfunction No. 2: Trump’s lies
Kelly may see his evolving role as working around Trump making stuff up.
Let’s take the politicized Boy Scout speech, for which Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh afterword issued an apology. Trump told the Wall Street Journal, “I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them.”
The Boy Scouts told several news organizations they are not aware of any call.
After Trump swore in Kelly, he said he got a call from Mexico’s president – that’s Enrique Peña Nieto – about decreasing border crossings. Nieto’s office said there was no phone call.
Functioning amid Dysfunction: Sessions
Let this not go unnoted: While Trump’s legislative agenda is imperiled, the now formerly beleaguered Sessions has done more than any other cabinet member to reverse Obama-era Justice Department policies on immigration, civil rights and criminal justice.