Washington Gets Down to Business—Politically  

Washington Gets Down to Business—Politically  


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

In political terms, the government shutdown is the tip of the iceberg. There is a clear stand-off at this point and the President has evidenced no intention to negotiate unless and until he gets his $5.6 billion wall. With 800,000 government employees not being paid, the President is totally deluding himself if he believes his approach is helping him politically . The callousness and flippancy with which he addresses those who have been laid off or are working without pay is truly remarkable; however, the real political news came from new Members of the 116th Congress on both the Democratic and Republican sides.

The late House Speaker Sam Rayburn was reported to have given regular advice to freshman Members; they should be seen but not heard. Time was that before a new House Member gave his/her maiden speech on the House Floor—even for a couple of minutes—the new Members needed to pay their dues. This is one of the pages in the briefing book that Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib did not read or hear during the freshman orientation. Calling for impeachment at a post-swearing in party for her close Michiganders is one thing.  Cursing out the President of the United States in public is not worthy of a Member of Congress and is stooping to the President Trump’s own level of vulgarity.

While the young progressive liberal Democrats have certainly arrived in D.C. determined to re-make the town, they are not the first large wave of Freshman who assumed they would sweep in and change the norms and folkways of the Congress. Constraining Tlaib will not be simple as she also is the first Palestinian-American elected to Congress and one of two first year Muslim women in the House. Predictably, Tlaib asserted that she would not restrain her language if and when she felt so moved. Similarly, House Speaker Pelosi declared she would not censor a Member. Time will tell if and how, both of them as well as other Democratic party elder react to her language. Tlaib certainly gave Trump an unnecessary target to tweet at as he rebutted her impeachment challenge.

Not to leave all the political news to the young Dems, the freshman senator from Utah, Mitt Romney, stirred up the town even before he took his oath of office. Attacking the character not the substantive achievements of the Trump Administration, Senator Romney clearly appeared to be laying down the gauntlet for future challenges to Trump’s conduct in office. As a Mormon coming from Utah, Romney can speak to character issues to which Mormons have always been extremely sensitive.

The curious question being asked is why Romney in writing an op-ed column in the Washington Post attacking the President, did it before he was even sworn in; why he did not wait until as an official he could be seen addressing a specific action taken by the President; was Romney was only trying to elevate himself as a Senator whose voice would be heard; and will Romney he be prepared to move into an attack mode against the President and thus be joining the Democrats?

There are other voices which have and have not emerged since the beginning of the New Year, one vocally and one in silence. Senator Elizabeth Warren officially threw her hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination in 2020. She then proceeded to move directly to Iowa to begin her long quest. At the same time that colleague and expected rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders, faced renewed challenges from 2016 campaign staffers who have alleged that his campaign overlooked sexism and ignored sexual harassment allegations.

On the Republican side, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is the remaining Republican majority voice in Congress, has been noticeably silent during all the negotiations on the shut-down. McConnell, who did attend at least one negotiating meeting in the White House, skipped out before facing any press. His office has indicated that McConnell has left the serious deliberations to the President and House Democratic leaders. This is the same style of governing which McConnell has used since he became Majority Leader in 2015. Considering that McConnell is the Senate Leader and ought to be actively engaged in governing, he has consistently used his position to avoid negotiations whenever possible.


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