John Patrick Grace: Senator stands out as champion of civility

December 4, 2018

Many Americans, appalled by the bitter squabbling in Congress among defenders and critics of President Donald J. Trump, have been seeking desperately for signs of a bipartisan breakthrough on key issues — or at least a wisp of civility among the acrid currents of demonizing rhetoric.

Voila! Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, may be the answer to our prayers. All the better that Coons himself is a dedicated Christian and co-leader of the U.S. Senate every-Wednesday-morning prayer breakfast. The other co-leader is Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma.

As a guest on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week, Coons was asked by panelist Eddie Glaude Jr., a Princeton University professor, to talk about his hopes and prayers for forging a path back to civil discourse among political figures left, right and center.

Coons cited a talk he had given a day before at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., the very church where Abraham Lincoln went to pray “in the darkest hours of our history.”

Coons spoke about “the importance of healing and forgiving while addressing our divisions.”

“We’re really mad at each other in the U.S. Senate,” he said, adding: “We in the Senate should model humble behavior in how we can work together on the issues.”

Such a refreshing note.

Asked in a separate interview who they would point to as other senators disposed to promote greater civility and search for bipartisan cooperation, Coons cited Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Sen. Lankford cited Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. Both gave a positive nod to Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia.

Here in West Virginia, we’re familiar with Sen. Joe Manchin’s efforts to break the icy chill of partisan bickering and bring people together across party lines. Manchin has become especially known for hosting informal gatherings that blend Democrats and Republicans on his floating residence - a boat moored along the Potomac River.

Back to Coons: The Delaware senator also has made news lately for another venture - partnering with Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona to sponsor a bill to protect the probe headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. That investigation also has been looking into possible obstruction of justice and/or abuse of power by Trump and his campaign and White House aides.

Thus far Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has flatly refused to allow such a bill to come to a vote on the Senate floor. McConnell claims he has assurances from the White House that Trump will not order or orchestrate Mueller’s firing or seek to shut down the investigation.

Other Republican senators are not so sure.

Trump’s recent firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his appointment of former Sessions chief of staff Matthew Whitaker to step in as interim A.G. has triggered renewed interest in Congress in protecting Mueller. Whitaker, an unconfirmed appointment (and thus, say some, an illegal pick), has written op-ed columns and other pieces clearly stating his negative view of the Mueller probe’s legitimacy.

The president himself continues, even at this late date, to refer to the Mueller investigation as “a hoax,” “a witchhunt” and even “a national disgrace.” Trump also has lately alarmed even close White House aides with his increasing unwillingness to listen to others’ advice and his erratic and at times rage-filled behavior as he goes about his daily duties.

John Patrick Grace lives in eastern Cabell County.

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