After months of bipartisan cooperation on pandemic legislation, Congress has resumed their preferred operating mode of putting partisan loyalty ahead of the compromise necessary to pass major legislation. Predictably, President Donald Trump tweeted ““DEMOCRATS ARE HOLDING THIS UP!” Dividing Americans happens to suit his endless campaign style of governing and strategy.
“Congress is not fulfilling its constitutional duties” 70 former U.S. senators wrote in an open letter just before our economy ground to a halt. And while they focused on the chamber where they served, the Republican members among them can help fix the problem by endorsing Joe Biden for President.
There was little to no opposition in the five pandemic bills Congress passed before the end of May. Among those was the $2.7 trillion CARES Act, which included $600 per-week expanded unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evicting renters.
On May 15, the Democratic-controlled House passed another one worth $3 trillion. Majority leader Mitch McConnell declared it dead on arrival. That wasn’t a surprise, because only one Republican supported it. But McConnell didn’t work with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to form a bipartisan committee to develop a better bill.
Instead, at the end of July, the full senate voted to begin debate on the House bill. But not until after they returned from their August recess. By that time the expanded unemployment benefits and eviction moratorium had expired.
In the middle of August, Senate Republicans floated a $1 trillion proposal that Democrats rejected. Now they’ve come back offering a smaller relief package.
In the meantime, McConnell watched with approval as President Donald Trump signed four executive orders that offered some relief while others deferred payroll tax obligations and student loan payments until after Jan. 1.
The partisan gridlock that enabled Trump to effectively legislate through executive order is precisely one of the complaints the former senators lobbed at their successors.
“By design” they wrote, “the Senate is the place where Americans with all their competing interests and ideologies are represented and where champions of those positions attempt to advance their causes and work through their differences. Many call the legislative process “sausage making.” That is a fair assessment. Legislating is often messy, but it is America’s way of holding together a diverse nation.”
They were recalling a time when both parties accepted independence among its members, the news media was respected, and the social media echo chamber didn’t exist.
Among those who signed the letter, 19 served three or more terms that that began in the 1970s. William Cohen from Maine left the Senate to serve as Defense Secretary for President Bill Clinton. John Warner supported gun control and equal rights regardless of sexual orientation. Both were Republicans. Sam Nunn was a Democrat who supported prayers in school and opposed Clinton’s proposal to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military.
Frank Murkowski ’s contribution to the letter likely includes some of the anecdotal frustration the group heard from unnamed “sitting members” who are “doubting whether there is any point in continuing to serve.” His daughter, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, is currently one of the most independent members of the Senate.
There’s a former senator who served with both Frank and Lisa Murkowski who probably would have signed the letter — that is if he wasn’t running for President. I don’t expect Joe Biden to be able to repair the Senate by himself. He’ll need the American people to put aside their ideological and tribal differences to make that happen.
But he won’t try to divide us the way Trump does. When Trump’s former defense secretary, leveled that criticism at him in June, Sen. Murkowski called James Mattis’s words “true, and honest, and necessary and overdue.” And she hoped it would help others in her party be “more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally.”
Our senior senator doesn’t need to share her observations about Trump with her father. Frank can see that for himself. And if he really wants to help “restore the Senate to its essential place in our constitutional system” he should endorse his former Senate colleague for to be our next president.