(CNN) — Former President Donald Trump may have left the White House, but his legacy of catastrophic mistrust is poisoning Washington, dampening hopes for a unified effort to crush the pandemic before mutations from new strains take hold.
Nine days after newly sworn-in President Joe Biden told the United States that “Any disagreement does not have to be the cause of a total war”, inter-party recriminations and the Republican collapse are consuming Congress.
It is now clear that the January 6 mob attack on Capitol Hill, while unsuccessful in its attempt to reverse Trump’s electoral defeat, has completely fractured the basic level of trust necessary for a political system to function, at one point. critical national.
In the quarter century of bitter political battles since former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Republican revolution, Washington has never been so fiery.
At times, on Thursday, it seemed that the entire Congress was obsessed with its own civil wars, isolated behind its high iron fence from the reality of America’s darkest modern winter.
And with more than 432,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 and the economy in shambles, hopes are fading – amid acrimony – for a bipartisan effort to beef up the crucial vaccination campaign.
The magnitude of that death toll has a lot to do with Trump’s negligence when he was in office. The tumultuous forces that now shake the Capitol are, in most cases, linked to Trump or the extremism of his acolytes who have fully bought into his alternate reality that rejects truth and democracy itself.
In an extraordinary comment Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned of the ‘internal’ enemy in an apparent reference to some pro-Trump Republicans.
“We have members of Congress who want to bring arms to plenary and have threatened violence against other members of Congress,” Pelosi said.
Given the urgency for all Americans, regardless of party, to receive a vaccine before the pandemic triggers another deadly wave, it was to be expected that the Republican leader of the House of Representatives was locked in negotiations.
But Kevin McCarthy was in Florida, paying tribute to the former president, paving the way for Trump’s political return and effectively launching the 2022 midterm election campaign.
The recovery session means McCarthy is pinning his hopes of winning a House majority next year between Trump’s base and an aggressive political effort by the former president. Far from being ostracized for trying to destroy democracy, Trump is once again dictating his future.
Trump remains a hero to his base, but since he just lost a national election completely, McCarthy is taking a chance. In the short term, his genuflection means that with the House Republican Party enslaved by the former president and his vengeful instincts, Republicans will be even less willing to work with Biden on critical efforts to respond to the pandemic.
‘You almost got me killed’
Adding to the sense of fuss unleashed, the Republican Party is eating its share. Trump’s protégé, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, traveled to Wyoming Thursday to lead a revolt against Republican House No. 3 Leader Liz Cheney, who, in a vote of conscience, voted to impeach the former president for him. mob assault.
It is extraordinary that the only senior Republican in danger of being toppled by the insurrection who has been forgotten or excused by many Republican leaders is Cheney, a true lifelong conservative.
Grassroots Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing an attempt to oust newly elected Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has supported the fringe conspiracy movement QAnon, following a report from CNN’s KFile who prior to running for office supported calls on social media to assassinate Democratic leaders.
Greene, a Republican from Georgia, is an avid Trump supporter and at a forum meeting Thursday night repeated lies that the election was stolen from the former president who has backed it on multiple occasions.
In another sign that toxicity is paralyzing Congress, House Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York lashed out at Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who seemed to agree with her about the need for an investigation into it. chaos on Wall Street.
The New York Democrat, who has said she felt her life was in danger during the insurrection, tweeted: “You almost got me killed.” Just before a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, Cruz had opposed Arizona’s certification of electoral votes, embracing Trump’s unsubstantiated accusations of an improper election.
The acid mood in Congress is also caused by the chasm over whether to punish the former president for inciting the unrest.
Republican disinterest in holding the former president accountable for the insurrection in his impeachment starting next month is eroding the Senate’s already weak 50-50 effectiveness.
And in a previously unthinkable suggestion, the acting chief of the Capitol Police proposed a permanent fence around the Capitol. Even the terrorist attacks of September 11 did not lead to such draconian proposals for security measures.
Calm reigns in the White House
The pandemonium on Capitol Hill contrasts with the methodical calm that now prevails at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, just over a week after Biden’s presidency began.
The president stubbornly pushed forward with his effort to roll back Trump’s political agenda on Thursday, signing an executive order that will expand access to Obamacare, the health care law Trump sought to destroy.
Incredibly, under the circumstances, Biden still believes he can get Republicans and Democrats to join his pandemic bailout bill, although he has signaled that he may be ready to negotiate the $ 1.9 trillion price tag.
“He continues to believe that this can be, should be and will be a bipartisan bill … and is talking and listening to leaders and members of both parties to ensure we get to exactly that place,” said the White House Press Secretary. , Jen Psaki.
But there are growing signs of impatience among Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, suggesting that time may be fast running out for the new president to put a bipartisan veneer on the bill.
“We want to work with our Republican colleagues to promote this legislation in a bipartisan manner, but work must move forward, preferably with our Republican colleagues, but without them if necessary,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Pelosi also noted that she was ready to use a procedural device known as reconciliation to quickly pass a bill to increase vaccine supplies, ease the housing crisis, and extend unemployment benefits if Republicans did not sign.
The president has announced an ambitious attempt to completely reform the faltering vaccine distribution effort left by the previous administration. But the plan hinges on a huge increase in funding that only Congress can provide.
While hospitalizations and new cases of COVID-19 have decreased across the country, the baseline remains very high. Many medical experts are concerned that virus mutations that are more transmissible, slightly more deadly, and may be more resistant to vaccines they may soon become dominant and unleash another wave of disease and death.
Two cases of one such variant, first detected in South Africa, were found in South Carolina, authorities said Thursday. The discovery was so concerning because Biden said this week that it will be late summer before all Americans receive the vaccine.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and an informal advisor to Biden’s coronavirus team, warned of “the darkest days ahead.”
“What we can expect to see over the next, I think, six to 14 weeks is something that we haven’t even experienced yet,” Osterholm said on CNN’s “New Day.”
That is not a message that is taking its toll on Capitol Hill.