Trump’s Pile of Rubble

WASHINGTON — One of the most totemic pictures of the Obama era was a White House photo showing the president bowing to let a 5-year-old black boy touch his hair.

As Jackie Calmes reported in The Times, the boy, the son of a departing National Security Council staffer, had shyly told Barack Obama, “I want to know if my hair is just like yours.”

“Touch it, dude!” the president instructed the child.

It was a moment that summed up all the giddy dreams about race and modernity and a gleaming American future that propelled a freshman senator with an exotic name into office.

Now, one of the most totemic pictures of the Trump era has been tweeted by Melania from the El Paso hospital visited by the first couple amid the blood-dimmed tide of back-to-back gun massacres in Texas and Dayton.

The first lady is holding 2-month-old Paul Anchondo, whose parents, Jordan and Andre, died shielding him from a shooter who confessed to the police that he drove from his home in Allen, Tex., to El Paso to kill Mexicans with an AK-47-style rifle. A manifesto he posted on 8chan, an online forum that’s a haven for white nationalists, stated that he wanted to stop the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

President Trump, standing next to Melania and the baby in the picture, is grinning and giving a thumbs-up.

The infant’s uncle, Tito Anchondo, told reporters that he brought Paul to the hospital to meet Trump, while other victims refused to do so, because he wanted to tell the president about the pain of the family. His slain brother, he said, was a Trump supporter. He told The Washington Post that he felt consoled by Trump.

President Barack Obama in 2009 bent over so the son of a departing staff member could feel his hair.
CreditPete Souza/The White House

But still, there is something sickening about the photo. The picture of Obama with a child was luminous with hope and idealism. The one of Trump with a child was dark with pain and shattered ideals.

Devoid of empathy and humanity, Trump is mugging with an infant who will never know his parents. They were shot by a psychopath whose views echoed Trump’s dangerous and vile rants painting people with darker skin — like the baby’s father — as the enemy, an infestation and invasion aiming to take something away from real Americans. It is the same slimy chum thrown out by other Republicans, only more brutally direct and not limited to campaign season.

Even as we absorbed the grotesque image from the hospital, we had to watch the heart-rending footage of Hispanic children sobbing and stranded in Mississippi because their parents, many working at a chicken processing plant, had been rounded up by ICE.

The Post featured a disturbing headline on Monday about a new study: “Risk of Premature Birth Increased for Latinas After Trump’s Election.” The story said, “Researchers have begun to identify correlations between Trump’s election and worsening cardiovascular health, sleep problems, anxiety and stress, especially among Latinos in the United States.”

The shining city on a hill is an ugly pile of rubble.

Even on this most tragic of weeks for so many families, Trump was obsessing on himself, on his crowd size compared with Beto, and on whether he was getting enough obeisance from Ohio pols.

It defies one’s faith in the good sense and decency of America that we cannot stop the deluge of shooting rampages — even at a time of unprecedented weakness for the N.R.A. and the loathsome Wayne LaPierre, with the gun lobby awash in coup attempts and corruption.

Gun control has the aspect of an intractable problem when it is anything but. Inexplicably and abhorrently, we have decided to live with periodic human sacrifices. That became clear in 2012 in Newtown after the slaughter of the “beautiful babies,” as Joe Biden called the dead first graders. If that didn’t shock the soul enough to act, what could?

We’ve heard Trump talk about talking sense into N.R.A. officials three times now, during the 2016 campaign and after the Parkland shooting and again Friday after his sympathy calls in Dayton and El Paso. The first two times, he caved to the N.R.A. quickly.

Yet temperamentally, Nixon-to-China, Trump is suited to that job. Even though he’s a belligerent, he’s not so enamored of war and guns. “My sons love hunting,” he once tweeted. “I don’t.” He’s no gun nut; he’s a former Democrat from New York who likes to golf.

If he wanted to lead a crusade to get real background checks — or even a ban on assault weapons, which he said in a 2000 book that he favored — he would be formidable.

There is some movement now because the Republicans are scared — not of the shooters but of suburban voters.

For the most part, Republicans are gun owners and Democrats aren’t. But Republican voters are more supportive of common-sense gun control than elected members, who are wallowing with the swamp creatures at the N.R.A.

Mitch McConnell, Dr. No, won’t want to do anything; his spokesman was backing away on Friday. That same day, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, John Barrasso, pumped the brakes on possible inroads, background checks and red-flag laws.

If the president and Republicans come up with anything at all, it will be a remedy just marginal enough to give themselves cover, denying Democrats a powerful campaign issue.

Moscow Mitch and Dreadful Donald will keep talking compromise and hope that things settle down by September, when Congress gets back.

But point-blank: Our Republican leaders are cowards.

We shouldn’t let things die down. Because people keep dying.

‘Moscow Mitch’ Tag Enrages McConnell and Squeezes G.O.P. on Election Security

Senator Mitch McConnell is usually impervious to criticism, even celebrating the nasty nicknames critics bestow on him. But Mr. McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is incensed by the name “Moscow Mitch,” and even more miffed that he has been called a “Russian asset” by critics who accuse him of single-handedly blocking stronger election security measures after Russia’s interference in 2016.

Democrats had been making the case for months, but it was supercharged last week by the testimony of Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel, who told the House Intelligence Committee that the Russians were back at it “as we sit here.”

Mr. McConnell cites several reasons for his opposition — a longstanding resistance to federal control over state elections, newly enacted security improvements that were shown to have worked in the 2018 voting and his suspicion that Democrats are trying to gain partisan advantage with a host of proposals.

Republican colleagues say that Mr. McConnell, a longtime foe of tougher campaign finance restrictions and disclosure requirements, is leery of even entering into legislative negotiation that could touch on fund-raising and campaign spending.

“Democrats want more aggressive legislation to protect America’s elections after Robert Mueller’s stark warning about Russian interference,” began one report aired on a Louisville television station last week. “Mitch McConnell blocked it.”

Even President Trump felt compelled to come to his defense — as only he could.

“Mitch McConnell is a man that knows less about Russia and Russian influence than even Donald Trump,” the president told reporters Tuesday as he was leaving for a speech in Jamestown, Va. “And I know nothing.”

That did not relieve the heat on the majority leader, who on Monday had appeared to open the door ever so slightly to doing more on election preparedness.

“I’m sure all of us will be open to discussing further steps Congress, the executive branch, the states and the private sector might take to defend our elections against foreign interference,” he said as he seethed on the Senate floor over what he described as McCarthy-style attacks on his integrity and distortions of both his position on election security and his hawkish history of challenging Russia.

Throughout his political career, Mr. McConnell has made opposition to the Kremlin a hallmark of his foreign policy stands.

For once, Democrats seemed to be getting to a man who has embraced his portrayal as Darth Vader and the Grim Reaper overseeing a Senate graveyard for legislation that he opposes. When an unsubstantiated West Virginia Senate campaign ad in 2018 called him “Cocaine Mitch,” he began answering his Senate telephone with that identifier.

“Moscow Mitch”? Not so much: “I was called unpatriotic, un-American and essentially treasonous,” he fumed on the Senate floor.

Democrats pressed their advantage. And why not? The hashtag #MoscowMitchMcTraitor was trending on Twitter, and Senate Republicans of all stripes were being asked about the blockade.

“So long as the Senate Republicans prevent legislation from reaching the floor, so long as they oppose additional appropriations to the states, so long as they malign election security provisions as, quote, partisan wish lists, the critics are right to say Leader McConnell and Republican senators are blocking election security,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said on the floor Tuesday.

Mr. Schumer has in the past suggested that another potential reason behind Mr. McConnell’s position is the thought that interference emanating from Russia could aid Republicans. “I hope it’s not because he thinks it will benefit him, because Putin could turn around in a minute, and then do things that he doesn’t like,” Mr. Schumer said in June.

Lawmakers in both parties have election security proposals waiting on the sidelines, and the furor has caused some to step up demands for Congress to take up their bills.

Senators Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, wrote on Monday to colleagues reconciling the annual House and Senate military policy bill to request that they include stalled sanctions legislation meant to deter Russia or other foreign actors from interfering in American elections. House lawmakers included a similar provision in their military policy bill, but the senators want to see it strengthened to slap Russia’s economy with intense sanctions if it is found to interfere in a future election.

“This conference committee represents this Congress’ best — potentially last — opportunity to enact meaningful legislation aimed at deterring Russia from a repeat performance of its 2016 presidential election interference,” the senators wrote. “We ask that you seize this opportunity and include the provisions outlined above in the final conference report.”

On Tuesday, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, signed on to a measure by Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s top Democrat, that would require campaign officials to report to federal authorities any offers of campaign assistance from foreign entities.

“Russia’s efforts to interfere in our elections remain relentless,” said Ms. Collins, who is also up for re-election next year, in a statement.

Mr. McConnell’s opposition to any and all election legislation has bottled up the bills in the Senate Rules Committee. The panel’s chairman, Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, has hesitated to advance any of the measures since they would go nowhere on the floor.

Mr. Blunt said he repeatedly had been assured by the F.B.I., the Department of Homeland Security and the federal intelligence agencies that they were not lacking resources to combat election interference.

“They always say, ‘No, we don’t need anything,’” Mr. Blunt said Tuesday. A former state elections official himself, Mr. Blunt said he agreed with Mr. McConnell that the federal government should not gain more authority over state elections.

“Mitch would not want to see us further federalize the process and that’s where I am, too,” Mr. Blunt said.

Proponents of the bills say they are devised to keep the states in the lead. A Democratic measure approved by the House would send more than $1 billion to state and local governments to tighten election security, but would also demand that states use the money for machines with backup paper ballots and require a national strategy to protect American democratic institutions against cyberattacks. States would be required to spend federal funds only on federally certified “election infrastructure vendors.”

A bipartisan measure in both chambers would require internet companies like Facebook to disclose the purchasers of political ads. Another bipartisan Senate proposal would codify cyberinformation-sharing initiatives between federal intelligence services and state election officials, speed up the granting of security clearances to state officials and provide federal incentives for states to adopt backup paper ballots.

Backup paper ballots got an endorsement Tuesday from an unlikely source: Mr. Trump. He took to Twitter to call for “Paper Ballots as backup (old fashioned but true!).”

With the focus on the issue intensifying, Mr. McConnell and Senate Republicans will face more pressure to act.

If they do, the most likely result would not be advancing stand-alone bills but instead using the annual spending bills that must pass this fall to funnel more money to states to secure their elections and to make certain they have a paper-ballot trail that can be audited if questions arise about the legitimacy of an outcome. Ten states now lack full capacity to do so, according to the Rules Committee.

Mr. Schumer encouraged that idea Tuesday. “If McConnell wants to address election security in the appropriations process, we would welcome his support on an amendment to send more funding to the states,” he said. “We want to get something done on election security because this is not about party, this is a matter of national security.

Mr. McConnell said Monday that he would not be intimidated into acting on election interference.

He also will probably not be answering his phone “Moscow Mitch.”

Senate Democrats have the power to stop Trump. All they have to do is use it.

As a Democratic Senate aide for the past seven years, I had a front-row seat to an impressive show of obstruction. Republicans, under then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, decided they would oppose President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at every turn to limit their power. And it worked: They extorted concessions from Democrats with threats of

  • shutdowns,
  • fiscal cliffs and
  • financial chaos.

I know firsthand that Democrats’ passion for responsible governance can be exploited by Republicans who are willing to blow past all norms and standards.

Now we have a president who exemplifies that willingness in the extreme. Partly, this explains why he faces more questions about his legitimacy than any president in recent history and why he drew three times as many protesters as inauguration attendees last weekend. But in something of a mismatch, Republicans’ unified control of government means that the most effective tool for popular resistance lies in the Senate — the elite, byzantine institution envisioned by the founders as the saucer that cools the teacup of popular opinion.

Senate Democrats have a powerful tool at their disposal, if they choose to use it, for resisting a president who has no mandate and cannot claim to embody the popular will. That tool lies in the simple but fitting act of withholding consent. An organized effort to do so on the Senate floor can bring the body to its knees and block or severely slow down the agenda of a president who does not represent the majority of Americans.

The procedure for withholding consent is straightforward, but deploying it is tricky. For the Senate to move in a timely fashion on any order of business, it must obtain unanimous support from its members. But if a single senator objects to a consent agreement, McConnell, now majority leader, will be forced to resort to time-consuming procedural steps through the cloture process, which takes four days to confirm nominees and seven days to advance any piece of legislation — and that’s without amendment votes, each of which can be subjected to a several-day cloture process as well.

McConnell can ask for consent at any time, and if no objection is heard, the Senate assumes that consent is granted. So the 48 senators in the Democratic caucus must work together — along with any Republicans who aren’t afraid of being targeted by an angry tweet — to ensure that there is always a senator on the floor to withhold consent.

Because every Senate action requires the unanimous consent of members from all parties, everything it does is a leverage point for Democrats. For instance, each of the 1,000-plus nominees requiring Senate confirmation — including President Trump’s Cabinet choices — can be delayed for four days each.

While the tactic works well, as we’ve seen for the past eight years, there remains the question of strategy. Should Democrats be pragmatic and let Trump have his nominees on a reasonable timetable, so as not to appear obstructionist? So far, this has been their approach to some of Trump’s Cabinet picks.

But it’s also fair to say that, by nominating a poorly qualified and ethically challenged Cabinet, Trump forfeited his right to a speedy confirmation process, and Democrats should therefore slow it down to facilitate the adequate vetting that Trump and Senate Republicans are determined to avoid by rushing the process before all the questionnaires and filings are submitted. Four days of scrutiny on the Senate floor per nominee, even after the committee hearings, is a reasonable standard for fulfilling the Senate’s constitutional responsibility of advice and consent.

Democrats can also withhold their consent from every piece of objectionable legislation McConnell tries to advance. With 48 senators in their caucus, they have the votes to block most bills. But even when Democrats don’t have the votes, they can force McConnell to spend time jumping through procedural hoops. This is the insight McConnell deployed against Reid to manufacture the appearance of gridlock, forcing him to use the cloture process more than 600 times.

Finally, Democrats can withhold their consent from Trump until they feel confident that foreign governments are not interfering in our elections. Credible reports hold that U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating whether Trump’s campaign cooperated with the Russian government on Vladi­mir Putin’s personally directed meddling. Withholding consent from Trump’s agenda until an independent, bipartisan probe provides answers is not just reasonable; it’s responsible. If Democrats withhold consent from everything the Senate does until such a process is established, they can stall Trump’s agenda and confirmation of his nominees indefinitely. Sen. Richard Durbin has been a leader in demanding an independent investigation. But unless Democrats back their calls with the threat of action, McConnell will steamroll them and never look back.

Of course, it would be unwise to deploy this strategy blindly. The kind of universal obstruction pioneered by McConnell during Obama’s presidency is not in Democrats’ nature: They believe in the smooth functioning of government.

But Democrats’ concern with delivering results for their constituents is also part of who we are and something we should embrace. Even for innately cautious Democrats, some issues demand dramatic action. If Trump wants to put their concerns about his legitimacy to rest, he can reach out with consensus nominees and policies, and come clean about his ties to Russia and his tax returns (which may show whether he has compromising financial debts to Russian interests). Until then, Democrats can stand up for America by withholding their consent.