In an irony of ironies, Senator Pat Toomey called Congress “completely dysfunctional” while speaking to Fox News on Wednesday.
It wasn’t the first time he’s maligned America’s legislature in those terms over the years, and his characterization of Capitol Hill is, of course, “completely” correct.
But Toomey’s criticism came across as off-putting considering it was his last minute attempt to inject what some decried as superfluous language into the latest virus relief package that very nearly caused a government shutdown.
Toomey told Fox that Steve Mnuchin was intimately involved in the stimulus negotiations. That was a nice way of saying that if Donald Trump wanted $2,000 checks instead of $600 checks and intended to say so publicly, it would have been nice to know last week. As The New York Times‘s Maggie Haberman put it Tuesday evening, “it’s a reminder that getting [Trump] not to say something is usually just delaying, not deferring.”
Congress struggled Wednesday to come to terms with Trump’s latest swerve, which threatened to derail a virus relief bill five months in the making. Democrats supported Trump’s call for larger direct checks to households, but it wasn’t clear whether Republicans were prepared to countenance the idea. Nor was it clear whether Trump truly intended to hold firm or whether he was in part motivated by some kind of strategic considerations related to the upcoming runoff elections in Georgia, where voters will decide which party controls the Senate.
For his part, Toomey recommended Trump sign the bill and leave additional debates around direct payments to future legislation. “I’m not a fan of these direct payments,” Toomey said. “The vast majority of the money inevitably goes to people who never had a loss of income,” he added, citing federal employees who “never lost a dime.” “Why would we be sending them $600, much less $2,000?,” he wondered.
I don’t know, Pat. Because we’re generous? And because the country is in a deep recession? And because everybody could use a little help now and again? And because, although I don’t have the numbers in front of me, I imagine that even if you want to suggest bureaucrats are overpaid and inefficient, most federal employees aren’t super-rich?
In any case, it wasn’t just the broad government funding bill and the stimulus package that Trump threw into turmoil Wednesday. The president also vetoed the defense bill, making good on one of his rolling threats.
Trump has variously suggested that somehow, America’s defense spending authorization benefits the Chinese, but what he really wants out of the deal is to blackmail Congress into stripping social media of their Section 230 protections. That’s not a “theory.” Rather, Trump has demanded it publicly.
While most rational people think it’s ludicrous to hold military funding hostage as part of a petty dispute with some of America’s tech companies, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are irritated with social media platforms, albeit for different reasons. So, even as Congress understands that attaching the Section 230 debate to the defense bill is pure madness, there’s plenty of bipartisan sympathy for a hardline position vis-à-vis tech.
Congress will likely override Trump’s veto, but the fact that he went through with it is just another testament to irrationality and a complete disregard not just for decorum, but even for the men and women who put their lives on the line for the country, often because presidents and a “dysfunctional Congress” (to quote Toomey again) pursue questionable foreign policy objectives.
I wish there were a more diplomatic way to put that. I really do. But there isn’t. Trump is effectively trying to defund the military as part of a personal dispute with social media companies, who he blames for “censoring” his unfounded claims about the election, both before and after the vote.
“Unfortunately, the Act fails to include critical national security measures, includes provisions that fail to respect our veterans and our military’s history, and contradicts efforts by my Administration to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions,” Trump claimed. Again: Those excuses are mostly red herrings. Trump is after the 230 repeal. That’s no secret. He’s also voiced opposition to provisions that call for rebranding (if you will) military bases named in honor of Confederate generals.
Republican Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wasn’t amused — at all. “The NDAA has become law every year for 59 years straight because it’s absolutely vital to our national security and our troops,” he said, in a statement. “Our men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform shouldn’t be denied what they need– ever.”
Inhofe (who harbors controversial views on some important matters, by the way) did say he shares Trump’s desire to repeal 230, but said that although such legislation is a “priority,” it can wait. He implored “all” of Congress to join him “in making sure our troops have the resources and equipment they need to defend this nation.”
Lindsey Graham fell in line with Trump, even with his own future in the Senate secure and the president on the way out the door. “Congress should vote to repeal Section 230 as requested by President Trump,” Graham said. “I will not vote to override [the] presidential veto unless [an] effort is made to wind down Section 230.”
It’s astounding that Graham, a foreign policy hawk, would effectively move to defund the US military to help Trump pursue a grudge against social media. Kevin McCarthy also indicated he wouldn’t vote against Trump’s veto.
“The veto is the latest sign that Trump, in his last weeks in office, is ready to challenge lawmakers in his own party, forcing them to choose between fealty to him and loyalty to their congressional leaders and, for some, their ideals,” The New York Times wrote, in a quick piece published Wednesday afternoon.
All of this is a legislative nightmare and just underscores the notion that America is experiencing political decay. The self-inflicted nature of the damage suggests that while the voting public shares some blame for who they put in positions of power, it may not be that America is ungovernable as much as it is the people charged with doing the governing aren’t up to the task.