How Trump is torturing Capitol Hill

From The Atlantic — Written by Molly Ball — Image courtesy of Yuri Gripas / Reuters

“Morning, everybody!” Paul Ryan chirped. “Busy week!”

It was indeed: Less than a day had passed since the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s involvement in the presidential campaign; just a few hours since President Trump angrily tweeted that the investigation was “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”; and only minutes since the Russia-linked former national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, had begun defying congressional subpoenas. A few days prior, the president had been accused of revealing sensitive intelligence information to the Russian foreign minister.

As Ryan earnestly touted his party’s work on “landmark federal IT reform legislation,” there was a grim, haunted look in his bright-blue eyes, and it wasn’t hard to imagine why. What ought to have been the salad days of Republican-led government had instead become a ceaseless, disorienting swirl of scandal, 120 days of self-inflicted chaos and crisis.

A flawed, unpopular health-care bill is stalled in the Senate, the president’s budget proposal has been dismissed out of hand, and hope is fading for other priorities such as tax reform and infrastructure. “How do you pack all that in?” Senator John McCain asked last week, adding, “So far, I’ve seen no strategy for doing so. I’m seeing no plan for doing so.” One Republican congressman suggested that what was needed was for the president to throw “a temper tantrum” to get lawmakers to act—this congressman happened to be named Brat.

Meanwhile Democrats sit back and watch it burn, with no small amount of schadenfreude, and the Republicans who never liked Trump see their worst predictions fulfilled. “You bought this bad pony. You ride it,” the anti-Trump consultant Rick Wilson tweeted recently. A staffer to a Senate Republican who did not vote for Trump told me, “We didn’t have high expectations, so we’re not disappointed. We tried to warn you.”

Washington’s turbulence has yet to redound to the benefit of Democrats, and the Montana victory soothed some Republican nerves. But one GOP lobbyist wondered to me whether longtime members of Congress might soon take the opportunity to retire if the situation doesn’t improve. “You finally have united Republican government, and this is as good as it gets? Why bother?” he said. “A malaise is setting in.”

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