If you think there’s political gridlock in Washington, wait until next year when Democrats take control of the House. Better yet, wait another week or two if President Trump makes good on his threat to shut down the government if Congress doesn’t approve funding for the border wall.
“The level of partisanship in Washington right now is as high as I’ve ever seen,” said Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, who has been in Congress since 1993. He also was in the House of Representatives in ’98 when Republicans impeached President Clinton, but failed to remove him from office.
Partisanship is nothing new in Washington, but the Clinton impeachment was a pivotal point for the bitterness we’re seeing today. We soon may be seeing impeachment politics all over again, depending what Robert Mueller turns up in his Russian probe and if Democrats launch new investigations of their own. Even if nothing happens on those fronts, President Trump will keep things stirring with his rhetoric, and divisiveness will continue.
But as hard as this might be to believe, there’s more bipartisanship in Washington that you might think. Recently, Crapo and Sen. Jim Risch teamed with Democrats from Washington and Oregon to pass the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, aimed at protecting endangered salmon and steelhead from predatory sea lions. The passage of the bill was routine, but it was not a simple bill.
“This bill took a long time to negotiate. There were a lot of interests with stakes in this process, including multiple states and many tribal nations. This bipartisan compromise shows that Congress can still function in a bipartisan way,” said Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.
“Science-based predation management will allow state and tribal wildlife officials to protect vulnerable salmon populations and the orcas that feed on them,” said Maria Cantwell of Washington.
The measure doesn’t touch on breaching the Lower Snake River dams, which has created heavy political divisions over the years but, as Wyden observed, it showed that Republicans and Democrats — at least from the Pacific Northwest — can work together.
“This bipartisan legislation represents a balanced, sensible approach to this threat,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.
Bipartisanship happens quite a bit among these delegations. Crapo and Risch have worked with Wyden, and others on numerous issues, including wildfire control and efforts to secure rural-school funding in timber areas. So, it’s not all about gridlock in Washington politics. There’s a long list of “adults” in the room — and not all of them are red-state Republicans. Crapo includes his colleagues from Washington and Oregon on that list, along with Sen. Sherrod Brown, the ranking member of the banking committee that Crapo chairs.
Bipartisanship does not gain a lot of media attention; following the shrill partisan voices is much more exciting and entertaining. Crapo doesn’t have a high profile in Washington, even with his committee chairmanship. He draws occasional criticism for being “too nice,” or “too soft,” but his congenial approach has served him well for parts of three decades. For a senator of either party, reaching across the aisle is good business in a world that requires 60 votes to get anything accomplished — and Republicans don’t have those numbers.
“Working together is what the people want,” he says.
Unfortunately, political gridlock is what the people end up getting.
“We hear a lot about health care, border security and immigration,” Crapo said. “We could solve those issues if we had less partisanship. There are a number of Republicans and Democrats who want to work on those issues.”
Crapo holds out hope that President Trump can work with Democrats in the House — at least, those who are not consumed in the “never-Trump” brigade. “But that doesn’t represent everybody, or everybody in either party. There are those who want to work on solutions.”
But no, Virginia, Santa Claus does not exist and there’s no reason to expect a “new age” of bipartisanship in Washington. It’s more likely that Trump will list “quit tweeting” as his new year’s resolution.
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Chuck Malloy, a Silver Valley native and longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.