Senators, bruised by impeachment, hunt for deals

Senators are scouring for bipartisan bills as they try to put the divisive impeachment fight behind them. 

The push for ideas that could breed common ground comes as the trial tested the institutional boundaries of the Senate and strained across-the-aisle friendships, sparking partisan tensions in a chamber that has become increasingly majoritarian in recent years. 

The fallout from the trial is still dominating Washington, with a days-long spat between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Trump grabbing headlines and both sides digging in for the year’s biggest political battle: the November elections. 

But Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, urged his colleagues to back down from the partisan warfare that has dominated Washington during the months-long drama. 

“Hopefully the better angels of people will begin to emerge, and we’ll see a willingness to focus on a common agenda. … I think both sides have things they need to get done,” Thune said. 

What specific piece of bipartisan legislation could move on the Senate floor, and how soon, is unclear. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is turning the chamber next week to his top priority: judicial nominations. 

But that’s done little to prevent senators from creating a public sounding board of potential ideas such as infrastructure and highway bills, medical and prescription drug costs, and privacy legislation. 

The impeachment trial effectively threw all legislation into limbo for weeks. The only bill the Senate has voted on so far this year was legislation in mid-January to ratify Trump’s trade deal with Mexico and Canada. 

The desire to get past impeachment was, at times, palatable in the final day and immediately after the trial, when several senators, asked about the fight, all responded with a similar message: It’s time to move on. 

“My preference I guess would be … we start working on things that unite us,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said when asked about the Trump-Romney scuffle. “Not just as Republicans, but as a Senate, as a Congress, as Americans.” 

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) added that senators should “turn the page … and get on the agenda, which is what I came here for, and I think there’s a lot of room for common ground.” 

The impeachment trial is the latest example of deeply partisan, rancorous fights that have buffeted the Senate during the Trump era. 

In three years there have been two lightning rod Supreme Court fights combined with a record clip of other judicial nominations, a failed months-long fight over ObamaCare and a tax plan that passed along party lines. All the while, legislation, most of which has to be bipartisan to pass, has slowed to a crawl. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who votes with Trump more than any other Democratic senator, said the mood in the Senate had been souring for years. 

“I don’t know how it can get more divisive. We’ve been in this situation for a long time,” he said asked about impeachment’s impact on the Senate as an institution, before adding unprompted: “I liked being governor.” 

But putting impeachment in the rearview mirror, much less setting aside the partisanship that defines much of Washington, will be easier said than done. 

Trump has spent the days since the trial publicly attacking his enemies from Pelosi to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the party’s 2012 presidential nominee who voted with Democrats to convict Trump of abusing the power of his office in his dealings with Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, Pelosi and McConnell both used their first news conferences after the Senate’s votes to lash out at their opponents. 

McConnell termed the impeachment sage a “political loser” for Democrats. He quickly doubled down during an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, where he called the attempt to remove Trump from office “stupid” and argued that it “backfired.” 

Pelosi, on Thursday, took the gloves off against Trump when she addressed a packed room of reporters on the House side of the Capitol. Pelosi characterized Trump’s State of the Union speech as a “manifesto of mistruths” with “appalling” language that “shredded the truth.” 

“He’s shredding the Constitution in his conduct. I shredded his state of his mind address,” Pelosi said. 

She also touted legislation that House Democrats will be working on including infrastructure, renewing the Equal Rights Amendment and housing. Asked about the ability to work with Trump, she indicated that was up to the president. 

McConnell, meanwhile, predicted that there are areas ripe for deals even in the fragile ecosystem of divided government but characterized House Democrats, not impeachment, as his “biggest problem.”

“We have pretty different approaches to America’s problems between the House and the Senate. I think we have got a chance to do some more business, I certainly hope so,” he said. 

McConnell pointed to infrastructure, parks legislation and land and water conservation as three things that could move on the Senate floor.

Further complicating a return to, in Thune’s words, “normalcy” is the looming 2020 elections, which will continue to take up a growing share of the political oxygen in Washington as November draws closer. 

The app failure in Iowa has embroiled Democrats in a days-long scandal and provided plenty of fresh fodder for Republicans. Meanwhile, the New Hampshire primary is on Tuesday, with elections in Nevada and South Carolina also scheduled for this month, keeping the White House battle at the forefront. 

Some of the responsibilities of legislating will come automatically, forcing lawmakers back down into the bowels of day-to-day governing. 

On Monday, the Trump administration is expected to release its fiscal 2021 budget. Though the hefty document is little more than a political wish list, it marks the formal start of the months-long effort to fund the government.

Senate Democrats could soon force a vote on checking Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran after tensions flared earlier this year. A resolution from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), which has the simple majority needed to pass, became eligible for floor action last month but was stuck on the back burner because of the impeachment trial. 

There’s also a quickly approaching March deadline on expiring surveillance authorities under the USA Freedom Act, including a controversial records program, known as Section 215, that gathers metadata on domestic text messages and phone calls. 

Thune added that potential for a deal rested with House Democrats and whether they “keep their spears out.” 

“My impression around here, at least in the past, is everything has a pretty short shelf life, what’s a crisis today, tomorrow will be something else,” he said. “But you know I think we all have to get beyond the hyper partisanship that has characterized the last year at least.”

Tags Canada Donald Trump Impeachment Infrastructure Iran Iraq Joe Manchin John Thune Kevin Cramer Mexico Mike Braun Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Nancy Pelosi Sean Hannity tax cuts Tim Kaine USMCA
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