In recent years it has become a political truism to speak of two Americas, Donald Trump’s Red America, Joe Biden’s Blue America and their parallel and uncrossed realities, which shape everything from partisan preferences to belief in the basic principles of science. The pandemic has tragically reinforced this narrative. Just look at a map tracing the latest spikes in cases, which appear as bright red spots in the Republican-prone states of the South and Midwest where Trump remains remarkably popular. Biden is now president, but there is no real sign that his quiet leadership and calls for national unity are measurably bridging the national divide. In fact, the latest Associated Press / NORC poll, released this week, shows that today 66% of Republicans believe Trumps Big Liethat Biden was not legitimately elected, which is a percentage point higher than ‘in February.
In Washington, the partisan divide now extends to issues big and small, determining not only how politicians vote, but even where they live, eat and shop. However, there is another, even older rift that persists in the capital and which, too, seems to be widening. I’m talking, of course, of the House and the Senate, which share a building, but often not much else. (Republicans are the opposition, but the Senate is the enemy, Rep. Al Swift, a Democrat from Washington, apparently once joked, appropriating a line probably as old as the Republic.) In the House these days Here, Trump and Trumpism remain the dominant reality, and the polarizing grievance he inspired seems to bring the total conflict between the parties ever closer. As President Nancy Pelosi continues an investigation into the pro-Trump riot on Capitol Hill on January 6, calling the investigation a patriotic duty, almost the entire House Republican conference has elevated Trump’s conspiracy theories to the rigged elections of 2020 and the peaceful people who participated in the insurrection at the level of the catechism of the party. In the Senate, many Republicans are no less outwardly Trumpists, reflecting the fact that they represent a thoroughly Trumpified Republican electorate. But there remains a sizable GOP faction, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell himself, who seems to be hoping the Party could finally move away from its earthy master. Or at least not to talk too much about him.
The week’s events in Washington seemed designed to underscore this difference in approach, if not ideology. On Tuesday, the House special committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol met for its first hearing, with members appointed only by Pelosi, following its rejection of two Republicans who voted not to certify Bidens’ victory. It was an unprecedented move by the Speaker of the House, and it seemed to reflect his willingness to proceed, that Republican outrage be damned. The audience featured shocking video footage and moving testimony from four police officers who fought in what history will surely call the Battle of Capitol Hill. It was captivating, tearful, compelling and infuriating. Who will forget Officer Harry Dunn recounting the horrific moment he had the N-word cast for the first time while in uniform? Or Officer Michael Fanone, shaming Republicans for their unworthy treatment of the police who defended them? But the audience was also and it is the tragedy of our political moment which is certainly the most moving for the viewers who needed the least to be moved: the large audience of Americans who are already deeply concerned about the January 6 damaging attack on our democracy. The notes seemed to confirm this: the audience for the Fox News audience dropped sharply when faced with nasty facts about Trump and what he inspired; Trump’s critics watching on MSNBC seemed to like it.
The two Republicans on the committee, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, were shunned by their conference; they are, in fact, the only two Republicans in the House who even voted to initiate the investigation. In recent months, many of their Republican colleagues have appeared to redouble their efforts to publicly support the former president and amplify his most outlandish lies. Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy, who on Jan.6 telephoned Trump to desperately ask him to help keep the crowd away, publicly said in January that Trump was responsible for the riot. Now he blames Pelosi for the violence, a bizarre new claim, which McCarthy repeated on Thursday. Even when they aren’t explicitly touting Trump, House Republicans are increasingly acting Trump, embracing division and the art of confrontation wherever possible. When the Capitol attending physician issued new guidelines this week requiring, once again, that masks be worn on House floors, several Republican members pointedly refused to comply, courting fines backed by Pelosi at the search for titles approved by Trump.
On the Senate side, meanwhile, a rump group of Republicans this week was actually doing something that is said to be remarkable in 2021: sit down and strike a deal with their fellow Democrats on a major bill. On Wednesday evening, bipartisan Senate negotiators, led by Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, announced enough progress on Bidens’ $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill to pass a major procedural hurdle in the Senate with seventeen Republican votes, including that of McConnell. The Minority Leader did not pledge to actually support the measure, but given that he was cited earlier this year as being one hundred percent dedicated to working against Bidens’ agenda, it did indeed seem like a important step.
Certainly, McConnell took a different approach from McCarthy in the face of the dilemma of post-Trump republicanism. McConnell has not spoken with Trump since December, when he belatedly acknowledged Bidens’ victory. On January 6 and thereafter, McConnell was unequivocal in blaming Trump for the attack. He has since practically refused to say Trump’s name in public. Although he voted against Trump’s conviction in the insurgency-driven impeachment trial and blocked plans for a bipartisan commission to investigate Jan.6, McConnell appears to have done so not out of slavish dedication to the former president. Instead, it seems consistent with his political assessment that Republicans are better off without Trump’s personality cult if they can avoid it.
As if to underscore McConnells’ point, Trump released a statement just ahead of the Senate vote on Wednesday urging Republicans to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure deal, without even pretending to have substantive objections to the other bill. than the fact that his name is not on it. Trump said working with Democrats makes Republicans weak, stupid and stupid, and threatened the primaries against those who oppose them. Soon after, nearly twenty of them opposed Trump and still voted in favor.
It’s a good question to ask if all of this will really matter. Over the past four years, Republicans in the Senate and House have been remarkably willing to allow Trump, thus keeping us trapped in an endless catastrophic loop of his destructive lies and conspiracy theories. A bipartisan bill crammed with popular spending on bridges, trains and tunnels is not going to change that. Trump remains such a power in his party that he has convinced millions of Americans not only to believe that Biden did not legitimately win the election, but even to refuse to wear a mask and get vaccinated during a deadly pandemic. .
Yet it struck me for a long time that the Trump presidency was truly a House-style presidency, just as Bidens’ policy was undoubtedly shaped by his thirty-six years in the Senate. Performative politics, avant-garde partisanship and a lot of shouting have long been in the DNA of Houses. Do you remember the Benghazi audiences? For much of his tenure, Trump was literally surrounded by veterans of the most extreme Republican faction in the House: the Freedom Caucus. This group produced two of Trump’s four chiefs of staff: Mark Meadows and Mick Mulvaney. John Boehner, the former Republican Speaker of the House who resigned under pressure from the Freedom Caucus, called them political terrorists in his recent memoir. In recent years, they largely haven’t legislated, spending their time in politics via press conferences and Fox News hits. Current group chairman Andy Biggs of Arizona was one of those who appeared at a protest outside the Department of Justice on Tuesday, the first day of the Jan. 6 hearing, a protest in favor of the arrested insurgents, now renamed as political prisoners. It’s as Trumpy as it gets.
Biden, on the other hand, offers America a presidency that draws on his years in the Senate. He talks about old-fashioned notions such as bipartisanship and civility, even at the cost of the anger of the more confrontational House-style progressives in his own party, who yearn for more partisan rhetoric. As Senate infrastructure negotiators neared their deal, Biden made a statement on the process on Wednesday that could have served as a mantra for his administration. I’m working with Democrats and Republicans to get this done, because while there are a lot of things that we don’t agree on, I think we should be able to work together on the few things that we agree on. okay, he said.
In the perpetual war between the House and the Senate, between the Trump-style showdown and the Biden-style consensus, of course, there is no permanent winner. And there are already a lot of losers. The January 6 denial and Trump-inspired vaccine denial are tearing the country apart even more. In a speech on the worsening pandemic on Thursday afternoon, Biden practically pleaded with Americans not to succumb to this divisive cycle again. These are not about Red States and Blue States, Biden said. It is literally life and death. No one in Washington has certainly escaped the fact that Mitch McConnell was among those Biden praised for their efforts to overcome the partisan vaccine divide. The gentleman from Delaware is president now, but he will always be a man of the Senate.
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