It was not so long ago that the conventional wisdom in Washington was that a genuine crisis like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had the power to cool partisan hostilities, pulling elected officials together to present a united front to a stricken nation. In a pandemic that has now claimed more than 100,000 lives, that is not proving to be the case.
“Partisanship seems to continue to escalate in spite of the crisis,” said Tom Daschle, who as a Democratic senator from South Dakota was the Senate majority leader during the Sept. 11 attacks and their immediate aftermath. “It is the worst I have seen it in my lifetime. And there is no end in sight.”
After the Sept. 11 attacks, stunned members of Congress and the Bush administration immediately toned down their usual back-and-forth and pulled together for months behind a variety of antiterrorism initiatives. Republicans and Democrats crowded together on the steps of the Capitol to sing “God Bless America,” and President George W. Bush told his top aides that “politics has no role in this. Don’t talk to me about politics for a while.”
The tone was set by President Trump in February, when he initially dismissed Democrats’ concerns about the coronavirus as their “new hoax” meant to hurt him politically. As debates over wearing masks and reopening the country have taken on a partisan tinge, Republicans in Congress have followed the president’s lead, portraying Democrats as eager to wring political advantage from the crisis and unwilling to do the hard work required to confront it. Democrats, in turn, have savaged Republicans, accusing them of being reckless in the face of a public health crisis and enabling a president who has botched the response.
Feuding Democrats and Republicans have moved beyond their usual bitter policy disputes into challenging the very legitimacy of the way that Congress does business, setting up an extended struggle over any legislation lawmakers do manage to pass as the coronavirus continues to spread and states and businesses struggle to determine how to reopen safely.
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has already suggested the new House voting system that allows absent members to let others record their votes could invalidate any legislation approved there. He said he might not be willing to take up bills passed under the new system. Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, shot back that the Senate constantly engaged in a form of proxy voting by allowing bills to pass with most senators absent as long as no one objected.
House Republicans have seized on the proxy voting as a way to try to delegitimize Democratic initiatives and charge that Democrats have abandoned their posts and aren’t up to the job — a theme they will play out in their uphill fight to regain the majority in November. They regularly cite provisions of the Constitution requiring Congress to assemble. But they typically leave out the most relevant clause, the one declaring that “each House may determine the rules of its proceedings.”
Ms. Pelosi herself has not been shy about throwing daggers, goading Mr. Trump by calling him “morbidly obese” while saying he was in a high-risk health group — fully aware it would get under his skin. She also said he acted like a child who came home with “doggy doo” on his shoes. Mr. Trump has called her a “waste of time” and a “sick woman” with a lot of “mental problems.” None of this would seem conducive to establishing a working relationship between two of the central figures in determining the continuing federal response to the pandemic, though they will have to come to terms at some point.
Even after the Sept. 11 attacks, the partisan truce was only temporary. By early 2002, the Bush administration was moving back into campaign mode and beginning to talk about how Republicans were the party to be trusted to combat terrorism, and portraying Democrats as weak on the issue. Republicans ended up gaining seats in the House and Senate, defying the tradition of a president losing seats in the midterm.
This content was originally published here.