AP NEWS

Raasch: After past week, DC means ‘Deepening Chasms’

February 11, 2017 GMT

WASHINGTON • Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, joined President Donald Trump’s biggest Republican critics to introduce a Russian sanctions bill that is almost certain to draw the ire of the tweeting president.

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt voted to silence a colleague who criticized former Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions during the debate over Sessions’ attorney general confirmation.

Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, marched with other House Democrats to the Senate to denounce that confirmation, proclaiming that Sessions had “a troubling aversion to civil rights.”

On the heels of those episodes, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., warned of a “battle royale” ahead over funding the priorities of the federal government.

Washington divisions and acrimony are not new.

But the discourse and distrust have taken even sharper partisan edges this winter. The normally reserved Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called Democratic senators “idiots.” The liberal Trump attacker, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has become the angry face of Democratic resistance to the new president in the Senate.

That happened when Blunt and 48 other Republicans voted to silence her for violating a Senate rule on permissible criticism after Warren read a 31-year-old letter from Coretta Scott King criticizing Sessions.

Democrats forced the Senate into all-night marathons on Trump’s cabinet nominees they do not have the votes to block. Blunt said that Trump had had more trouble getting his cabinet approved than any president since George Washington.

The one common denominator is Trump, who has so upset the ways and means of the nation’s capital that Hatch pleaded with his colleagues to give Trump a break because he is so new to this political game.

Fat chance in a political environment where partisanship is sharpened, tweet by tweet, and where Trump’s supporters are saying he is doing precisely what he said he would do.

Durbin warned of even more perilous shoals ahead.

“There is going to be a battle royale on the floor of the House and Senate about funding important things in America,” Durbin said. “The battle is going to be between defense and nondefense.”

The coming fights include those over whether to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch; find a replacement for ex-President Barack Obama’s massive health care reform infrastructure; and deal with Trump’s promises to pour huge amounts of money into infrastructure while beefing up the military and cutting taxes.

Those decisions would be enough to raise tension in ordinary times.

Overlay the president’s acerbic and personal tweet attacks, and the animus comes in waves that flow both ways.

This week alone, Trump has criticized a private company (Nordstrom’s) for ending his daughter Ivanka’s line of clothing, setting off an ethics debate.

He attacked the veracity of Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s report that Gorsuch had expressed worry over Trump’s tweet attacks on federal judges, something that McCaskill said Gorsuch also did in her private meeting with him.

And Trump sought to again personalize and politicize a federal court ruling, this one Thursday’s 3-0 federal appeals court decision upholding a stay on his controversial immigration order. Trump called it a “disgraceful decision.”

The fact that Trump has saved some of his sharpest criticism for fellow Republicans adds further spice to the stew. On Thursday, for instance, Trump said that Arizona Sen. John McCain’s doubts about the success of a U.S. raid against terrorists in Yemen, which cost an American soldier his life, “emboldens the enemy.”

McCaskill co-sponsored the Russian sanctions bill with McCain, and Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The three Republicans are Trump’s most frequent Republican critics.

The bill would give Congress oversight of any easing of sanctions against Russia by Trump, who critics say has displayed far less willingness to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Eastern Europe than Trump has of political opponents back home, even those in his own party.

“We are very worried. We think it is very important there is a check on the president,” McCaskill said.

She said that “a combination of things” was leading to the sour atmosphere here, but she added that “I don’t think it is as bad as it appears.”

“There is too much at stake for us to just stand in our partisan corners and engage in a food fight,” she said, explaining why she was seeking to co-sponsor legislation with Republicans.

“But there is no question that tensions run very high, and that makes it harder. And I don’t think the president is focused much on trying to bring everyone together.”

Blunt said during Sessions’ confirmation debate that he was worried about “the questioning of people’s motives, not just their decisions.”

“You can be wrong but not be evil,” Blunt said, hours before the Senate voted for Sessions and later swore in his replacement.

After this past week, the new senator’s name seemed appropriate:

Luther Strange.