On Friday President Donald Trump completed his 78th day in office as the 535 members of Congress packed up and left Washington for their two-week Easter Holiday. It didn’t seem to matter that critical legislation on funding the government after April 28 was unfinished or that very little had been accomplished since January 20. Republicans certainly won’t have a lot to talk about at town hall meetings back home except the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
Trump has signed 22 bills as president. Eleven of these were noncontroversial measures like naming federal buildings. The other 11 were roll backs of President Obama’s regulations, including the rule that prevented telecom and cable companies from sharing or selling their customers’ personal information without first obtaining permission. I don’t think Republicans will brag about sacrificing their constituent’s privacy when asked about their successes.
Of course the big failure in the House was the universally rejected American Health Care Act (AHCA), the Republican’s long touted repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare. For some moderate conservatives it went too far in eliminating health care insurance coverage and for the radical conservatives like Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and his Freedom Caucus it didn’t go far enough. Speaker Paul Ryan claims he will continue to try for consensus on this legislation but his chances probably aren’t very good.
Meadows was a self-described “developer” and sandwich shop owner in Western North Carolina. After being criticized by his party and his president for blocking the AHCA last week he is scrambling to make amends. But in order to get his band of radicals to vote for a revised bill it will have to make health insurance even less affordable for those who need it most. More moderate conservatives won’t agree to that and the Senate will present an even greater problem. I think Meadows is in over his head.
On March 30 Secretary of State Rex Tillerson inexplicably stated that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s fate was up to the Syrian people. No doubt this pleased Russian President Vladimir Putin who is Assad’s ally in Syrian war crimes; but it was a reversal of a long held U.S. policy that advocates regime change in Syria.
Several days later the Syrian air force dropped bombs containing deadly sarin gas on the rebel-held Syrian city of Khan Sheikhoun. Reports indicate that 86 civilians were killed, including 30 children and 20 women. The timing of this attack coming so soon after Tillerson’s curious comment about legitimizing Assad’s regime makes one wonder if there was a cause and effect relationship.
Trump made a display of compassion for the victims and disgust with the Assad regime after seeing pictures of the carnage. And now Tillerson is calling for Assad to be ousted. But Trump also blamed his predecessor saying: “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”
While one can argue that Obama didn’t do enough about Syria’s chemical weapons, it is certainly not true that he did nothing. Obama negotiated an agreement with Russia that was designed to eliminate all of Assad’s chemical weapons under international supervision. Russia agreed to ensure the process. In fact thousands of pounds of chemical weapons were removed and destroyed. But the only actions that seem to impress Republicans are dropping bombs and killing people. Obama tried to solve the problem without that.
Certainly the Syrian gas attack was horrific but Syrian and Russian bombings continue to kill women and children and pictures of their bodies, or what’s left of them, would be no less shocking and horrible. So why isn’t Trump incensed about these atrocities?
Perhaps I’m cynical, but I believe that media manipulator Trump saw the poison gas attack as an opportunity to accomplish something his base could cheer, distance himself from Putin and give the networks a flashy issue to distract them from his miserable record and his Russian connections.
Well, Trump didn’t solve the poison gas problem with a limited attack on one airfield, or accomplish much else for that matter. The airfield was back in operation the next day. And no doubt Assad has more chemical weapons and ample capability to deliver them, even on our troops fighting the Islamic State in Syria. Sadly, Trump has no cohesive follow-on Syrian policy.
Finally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proved once again that he cares nothing about the Senate or the Constitution by ramming through the confirmation of Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch. It is well documented that for eight years McConnell obstructed every part of Obama’s legislative agenda that he could, mainly with filibusters. In 2010 McConnell stated that his main objective was to make Obama a one term president. And last August he told a campaign gathering in Kentucky: “One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy (with Merrick Garland).’”
McConnell has been a leader in making gridlock a fact of life in Congress and further politicizing the judiciary. His actions have weaken our democratic process and I fear it will be a long time before Congress will return to the days when the minority party was the loyal opposition and compromise for the good of the country was possible.