One of the real delights in covering Congress is hanging around the Capitol elevators, or in the basement around where the congressional subways disgorge their passengers, in order to cadge what quotes you can from the congresscritters as they bustle around doing that thing they do. Tuesday was a particularly fruitful day for collecting specimens of complete political uselessness, particularly from the Republican members of the band. From Politico:
BUT, PRIVATELY, senior-level Republican aides and lawmakers had a second message: WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT US TO DO?
HOLD HEARINGS? They’ve done that, they say. Nearly every Capitol Hill probe into the 2016 election showed that Putin’s Russia did, indeed, interfere in the election to boost Trump. The president chooses to ignore that.
THE REPUBLICAN CONGRESS slapped endless sanctions on Russia. They’ve sought to boost Russia’s foes, and defend NATO. That’s a pretty strong rebuke against a president of their own party.
AT THE END OF THE DAY, senior Republican aides and lawmakers told us yesterday, it’s up to the president to conduct foreign policy. The Hill can -- and does -- criticize and conduct oversight.
SO THE ANSWER TO THE MEDIA FEEDBACK LOOP FROM YESTERDAY: Of course, Congress is not going to do anything substantive. They have no idea what more they should be doing.
TRUMP is clearly testing Republican patience more than ever before. Most Republicans see TRUMP as an uninformed neophyte who likes the vibes of strongmen. A man who believes it’s wise to ignore past misdeeds to pave the path for future deals. They don’t think he’s a wanna-be autocrat looking to turn the United States into the next Turkey.
The only reason for that is he doesn’t really know how to do it.
And when we’re talking useless, we must check in with Senator Susan Collins of Maine. According to Alexandra Jaffe of Vice, this is how Senator Collins explained how the checks and balances in the American government are supposed to operate.
"We can't tell the president what to say. All we can do is make very clear that we disagree w[ith] the approach the president has taken."
Congress. How does it work, anyway?
Jaffe also cornered Bob Corker, who absolutely has no reason to wring his hands.
“I'm acknowledging that the kind of things we do matter but … It's hard to, how do you deal with rhetoric?"
No, I don’t know what in the name of hairy hell he’s talking about, either.
We explained yesterday what two or three Republicans can do, right now, this moment, to throw the brakes on the crazy train. I am still stumped for another option. There are people who are arguing that the Congress should pass a bill protecting the Mueller investigation, let the president* veto it, and then override said veto, but do these people honestly think that two-thirds of the members of the current House of Representatives are going to vote to do that? Even if some of the voices in Louie Gohmert’s head are reasonable ones-a long-shot at best-it simply is not possible.
Gohmert came in hot today at a hearing over whether there is an overwhelming conspiracy to silence conservatives on the Internet. From Roll Call:
The Texas Rep. said he appreciated Democrats’ concerns about Russian interference in elections. “It’s been going on for 70 years,” he said. “It helped Truman get elected in ’48. Eisenhower called the Russians on it in ’56 and manipulation there.” Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev bragged about throwing the election to President John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Russia helped Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976, Gohmert said.
Good freaking god.
Then there was the press opportunity at the White House, at which the president* himself tried to walk back his abject truckling in Finland. To be kinder than I should be, this was an exercise in explaining how a dog ate his patriotism. From CNN:
In one of the only times of his presidency he's admitted to a mistake, Trump said that when he returned Monday from the summit with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, he "realized there is some need for clarification" about his remarks on Russian interference in the 2016 US election. "In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,' " Trump said Tuesday. He explained he had reviewed a transcript and video of his remarks. "The sentence should have been: 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia,' " he said. "Sort of a double negative."
And, finally, there was Barack Obama, giving a stunning speech to celebrate the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela. It was classic Obama: learned, passionate, delivered with an easy eloquence, and, in all the ways that we may have forgotten, utterly presidential.
And a politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment began to appear, and that kind of politics is now on the move. It's on the move at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. I am not being alarmist, I am simply stating the facts. Look around. Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained – the form of it – but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning.
In the West, you've got far-right parties that oftentimes are based not just on platforms of protectionism and closed borders, but also on barely hidden racial nationalism. Many developing countries now are looking at China's model of authoritarian control combined with mercantilist capitalism as preferable to the messiness of democracy. Who needs free speech as long as the economy is going good? The free press is under attack. Censorship and state control of media is on the rise. Social media – once seen as a mechanism to promote knowledge and understanding and solidarity – has proved to be just as effective promoting hatred and paranoia and propaganda and conspiracy theories.
He went on to talk about hope, and about the promise of the young people around the world, because he is Barack Obama and that is his mission as he sees it, and god love him for it. He did not mention Donald Trump. He gave the speech in South Africa and, by noon, his words had been drowned out by the continuing cacophony of chaos caused by his successor. It was a very good speech. I wish I didn’t feel that it was useless, too.
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