U.S. Sen. John McCain’s return to Capitol Hill last week after learning that he suffers from brain cancer should inspire all red-blooded Americans to emulate his courage, duty and honor — qualities rare in the halls of power in Washington. Yet his speech pressing fellow lawmakers — including Republican brethren who control the Senate — to scrap the crass partisanship that renders government increasingly dysfunctional and to instead build consensus among all political comers might as well have fallen on deaf ears.
The next day Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and majority whip, blamed Democrats for failure to pass a health-care bill to replace the admittedly flawed Affordable Care Act, even though he and fellow Republicans through much of the process excluded Democratic involvement and met behind closed doors. Granted, the vote to bring a bill to the floor and open the process to amendments from both sides “is about as open and transparent as it gets.” But Republicans have spent way too much time creating ill will for Democrats to be suddenly shamed into participation.
Even a “skinny” repeal of the Affordable Care Act went down in flames Friday, the death blow delivered by the same senator who without success begged his colleagues to change their ways. His vote was fitting. For all the loud rhetoric about Democrats forcing Obamacare down Americans’ throats, even Democrats didn’t ignore such critical protocols as committee hearings on major legislation.
Clearly we have a president incapable of bringing warring parties to the table to press deals to everyone’s benefit. He’s too busy refighting the 2016 election and pressing vengeance on enemies real and imagined to lead and forge any consensus. And when Republican Congressman Bill Flores again blames the Senate for failure, keep in mind he and House leadership only narrowly passed their health-care legislation — and without a shred of bipartisanship. After they delivered word to their president in a big, celebratory press event, the president undermined them by branding their reforms “mean.”
Republicans in the Senate — where gerrymandering can’t bolster one party’s numbers — created bad feelings when they excluded some of their own party from their closed-door meetings, including all the Republican women senators. By week’s end, with Republicans desperately crafting over lunch a last-ditch health-care bill imperiling millions of Americans and a sixth of the economy, it was obvious they didn’t have public welfare in mind. They were just trying to put one in the win column for their party.
“Let’s trust each other,” McCain told senators at one point. “Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires. We’re getting nothing done. All we’ve really done this year is confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.”
Did anyone on Capitol Hill learn from this debacle? We doubt it.