COLUMN — Make Congress function again

Published 4:03 pm Monday, May 27, 2019

Two U.S. senators’ admonitions of House Democrats this week came by way of divergent approaches but with the same goal: Five months into the session, make Congress function again.

U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, challenged the House Democrats to “urinate or get off the pot” when it comes to its impeachment bluster, a slightly sanitized twist on an old Southern aphorism. I’m not partial to toilet humor.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, fretted that the Democratic-controlled Congress was frittering away its opportunity to become relevant legislative partners on Capitol Hill. Instead, elected lawmakers have remained consumed with impeachment fever, perhaps at expense of other missions, the Robert Mueller report’s thin findings notwithstanding.

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Know this about Kennedy, whom I covered on numerous occasions over a period of some 18 years in Louisiana — he can deliver line after “folksy” line of on-deadline news copy, all of it carefully studied and prepared by a man who graduated magna cum laude from Vanderbilt, took Order of the Coif honors at Virginia Law and earned “first-class honours” in civil law at Oxford University. He’s not a hick but he can play one on TV.

Cornyn was typically serious in his comments but on target: Democrats recaptured the House of Representatives majority in 2018 and have an opportunity to make an impact over the next two years. Instead, they’re hellbent on impeaching the president and little else, no matter the unlikelihood of that outcome. Think the Democrats can win on impeachment? Count the number of Republican senators.

Cornyn, in televised remarks this week, acknowledged that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows better and has tried to steer her majority away from that effort, although she herself stumbled into the impeachment bluster this week, alluding to a presidential “cover-up.”

“I understand Mrs. Pelosi and her party are very disappointed in the outcome of the 2016 election, and they put all their hopes in the report from Director Robert Mueller over the two years that he investigated the Russian involvement in the 2016 election,” Cornyn said on Fox News. Mueller’s work didn’t pan out for them, politically.

Now, Cornyn warned, “what they’re doing is squandering what they got in the last election, which is a working majority in the House of Representatives to work with us and work together to try to pass legislation that would benefit the American people.”

Isn’t that what it’s about: Passing legislation? Delivering for constituents? Affecting the common good?

Which brings me to “The Meanest Man in Congress,” Timothy and Brendan McNulty’s recently published book on U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks, the Beaumont Democrat who represented this district for 42 years. The authors appeared at the Museum of the Gulf Coast, where they signed their book.

What Kennedy and Cornyn seek to promote is what Brooks himself might have demanded, at least when it came representatives doing their jobs in Washington. As the congressman who wrote the bill of impeachment against President Nixon, Brooks took a fairly wide view of how impeachment by the Congress might proceed.

But he took a much more narrow view of how congressmen themselves ought to handle the public’s business. There were “show horses” and “work horses,” he said, and he preferred the latter.

He held a decided preference for getting things done, too, for acting practically on behalf of constituents. Can House members do that while consumed with the prospect of impeachment, which seems so unlikely?

After two years of Mueller’s probe, the case against Donald J. Trump looks thin, at least when it comes to criminal deeds. His conduct itself sometimes embarrasses his office, but is he, as president, a crook? Not by the evidence presented.

Kennedy, a show horse, has given Democrat lawmakers a challenge that ought to sting: If you’ve got a case, present it. Then move on.

Cornyn, more of a work horse, though, has given lawmakers a challenge that strikes closer to their own effectiveness for constituents: If you’ve got legislation that matters, present it. Work with the House. Work with the Senate. Get something done.

Work in Washington gets done in the Congress, Cornyn reminds lawmakers. Real work gets done in the halls of Congress and in committees.

Jack Brooks might have said the same.

Just more gruffly.

Ken Stickney is editor of The Port Arthur News.


See also: Cornyn: Economy robust but beware