The government of the most powerful country on earth is no longer functioning.
Every attempt to do just about anything goes down in flames.
This happens periodically in a capital built on a divided government established by the founders. But when you meld that with the hyper-partisan atmosphere that is now embedded in our culture – set against a momentous presidential election – things seem more dysfunctional than ever.
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Neither side trusts the other. The paramount concern is the blame game, making sure the opposition party takes a hit when things fall apart.
At the same time, two major lawsuits, including one being heard by the Supreme Court today, will shape the 2024 election in ways we’ve never had to contemplate before.
The Trump team will try to convince the high court that Maine and Colorado acted illegally when they kicked the former president off the ballot. The appellate court ruling, which must be appealed to SCOTUS by Monday, says Donald Trump can’t be shielded from prosecution by unlimited immunity, especially after leaving office.
Who would ever have imagined that such battles would be fought for the first time in American history? Then again, we’ve never had an ex-president accused of criminal wrongdoing in four separate indictments–with the added twist that analysts agree the charges have boosted Trump’s campaign among the majority of Republicans who view him as being unfairly persecuted.
The long-running battle over the southern border is equally divisive. Now there’s no question that this is a major liability for President Biden, who has failed for more than three years to prevent record-setting waves of illegal migrants from flooding into the country.
Why he hasn’t done more, on a problem that even big-city Democratic mayors say is damaging, is hard to fathom. It is, after all, the signature issue that helped Trump get elected in 2016.
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So both parties, at least in the Senate, made an all-out attempt to hammer out a resolution.
After four long months, they finally settled on compromise language involving asylum, parole and other thorny issues. Biden made more concessions than most thought he would–including the power to shut down the border if illegal crossings exceeded 5,000 a day (which still seems way high). The Border Patrol union backed the measure, as did the Wall Street Journal editorial page.
And more than just immigration was at stake. Foreign policy had to be baked into the cake. The president saw the measure as a tradeoff, with border security greasing the skids for long-stalled military aid to Israel and Ukraine.
But Trump, the unquestioned leader of the party, said the bill would be a death knell for Republicans and urged them to oppose it, to hold off until he took office. Trump invited them to “blame me.” Biden said his likely opponent wanted the campaign issue more than a solution.
Once the bill’s text was released, Republicans started abandoning it in droves. There was little question that Trump was the motivating force. He is the party’s undisputed leader and on the verge of the nomination.
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When Mitch McConnell, who strongly supports U.S. assistance to Ukraine, conceded the bill couldn’t pass, it was over. Ted Cruz called for McConnell to be ousted as minority leader.
Speaker Mike Johnson, just a few months into the job, does not want aid to Ukraine, but brought to the floor a stand-alone measure to provide billions to Israel. That failed by a sizable margin. Now there’s chatter that Johnson could suffer the same fate as Kevin McCarthy.
What’s more, Johnson revived an effort to impeach Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas – the first such attempt to oust a Cabinet officer in 150 years. The media and those on the Hill thought it would be a slam dunk.
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But the maneuver failed by two votes, with three dissenting Republicans saying it wasn’t fair to impeach Mayorkas for carrying out Biden’s policies. So even that exercise in scapegoating was botched. Not that he would have been convicted by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
There’s a long way to go between now and November, both in Congress and the courts. But right now Washington is in a state of paralysis.