Old and new Washington met under the Capitol dome as the hours counted down to midnight Friday, when the government lights went out. It was only Wednesday, but what a long week already.
President Trump’s vulgar profanity, insulting Haiti, El Salvador and African countries in a White House meeting, changed everything. The air was fraught as lawmakers wrangled over the immigration status of 800,000 “Dreamers” who came to this country as children. Seldom seen: Senate Democrats so fighting mad, trying to prevent a mass deportation.
At that point, if no agreement was reached on the Dreamers deal, the government was running on borrowed time and money. But nobody knew if the president meant what he said Tuesday — or Thursday.
Pitch-dark democracy: a perfect way to mark an unpopular president’s one-year mark on Jan. 20.
Then 94-year-old beloved Bob Dole, Republican senator from Kansas from 1969 to 1996, was honored at a Rotunda congressional ceremony. Time stood still as senators from the old days showed up, etched with more lines, but remarkably hale. Trent Lott, Christopher Dodd, Richard Lugar and John Breaux were there. It almost seemed the grandfather Ohio Clock was wound back in time, as if marble busts might break into speech.
Did I mention Trump was there? Hard to miss a guy that’s 6 feet 3 inches tall and 239 pounds — so he says. But the sublime beauty of the setting was that he had to listen, as a guest in the House. The speakers upheld the old ways Congress used to work – actually work, giving and getting on both sides. Trump was captive in their element, at an away game.
Elizabeth Dole, once a senator from North Carolina, spoke sweetly of “the man I love with all my heart. I’m so proud of you, Bob Dole.”
Then she evoked the late Everett Dirksen – just “Ev Dirksen” to her. The famed Illinois Republican senator, who led major civil rights bills to passage, declared, “I’m a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.”
Elizabeth Dole said it best: “This is how the American republic was built.”
Dressed in blue, Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader, couldn’t resist a sly ladylike dig. Gesturing to the statue of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Army uniform, she noted he was a five-star general, adding that was a harder achievement than becoming president.
Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, Senate Democratic minority leader, showed Bob Dole, in a wheelchair, a warmth that could not be missed, not even by Trump.
In a voice that grew stronger with each breath, Dole thanked Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other leaders for their kind words. “They probably aren’t true, but they were extremely nice.”
Dole’s wit was always as dry as Kansas wheat in the sun. He epitomizes the World War II generation. As a soldier, he was wounded in battle in Italy and awarded two Purple Hearts. He worked “across the aisle” with Democrats, including Senator George McGovern, D-S.D., on food stamp legislation.
That was then. Now, Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill., tells reporters in the hall that six senators, three from each party, had reached a “true bipartisan compromise” on a Dreamers bill. It allows more than $1 billion for construction of Trump’s border security.
“This (negotiation) was not easy,” Durbin said. “It’s the only game in town.”
Yet, more trouble in paradise: Durbin was the only Democrat in the room when Trump used the foul language that led to a United Nations human rights rebuke. Durbin put the word out to the world, so Trump might repay him with spite and malice. If a shutdown is political suicide, if it hurts his party, what does he care?
Imagine that. Getting even with your enemies, at all costs.
Arizona senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans, seized the delicate moment to defend the press and denounce Trump’s notion of “fake news.” Thanks, fellas.
After the Dole honors, we wished the era of good feelings would last at least 10 minutes. But we’re back to the rude present. And nobody knows who’s afraid of the dark.