Take this conference and push it! Two fed-up lawmakers say why they’ve had enough


Take this conference and push it! Two fed-up lawmakers say why they’ve had enough

Election 2024

Mark Z. Barabak

November 28, 2023

Earl Blumenauer’s first news conference in Washington was a bipartisan affair, with the Oregon congressman attending alongside a fellow Democrat from Texas and Republicans from Illinois and New York.

Their topic: a plea for more civility in Congress.

“It almost seems strange now,” Blumenauer said of that “let’s join hands” moment in 1996.

The 14-term lawmaker recently announced his decision to call it quits after 27 years on Capitol Hill, part of an exodus of more than three dozen members of Congress who are rushing for the exits rather than seeking re-election . It is the highest number of departures in more than ten years.

Speaking from his Portland district, Blumenauer said his initial decision to run for Congress was inspired by Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives who operated the chamber with a gavel in one hand and a Molotov cocktail in the other. .

So it’s not like Blumenauer arrived in Washington to see lambs cuddling next to lions.

As “an experienced, not-yet-old politician … I thought I could make a difference,” said the 75-year-old lawmaker, who spent years in state and local government before heading to Washington.

Since then, however, the atmosphere has deteriorated incalculably, driven in large part by a struggling Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which seems to plumb new depths of uncertainty and disorder every day.

“Life is too short,” said Blumenauer, who plans to pursue his policy interests. Public transportation is a particular passion in a less toxic environment closer to home.

It’s not like he’s leaving behind a much-loved institution.

A recent Gallup poll found that 13% of Americans approved of Congress’ work, and that survey was conducted before former Speaker Kevin McCarthy elbowed a political foe and a Senate hearing on labor issues nearly turned into a fistfight.

“That’s impressive,” Rep. Ken Buck said drily of Gallup’s dismal assessment.

The Colorado Republican is also among those choosing not to seek another term after serving nearly a decade as a lawmaker in the House of Representatives and working as a staffer for then-Rep. in the 1980s. Dick Cheney. He’s had enough of the name-calling and juvenile behavior, Buck said.

“There’s a part of me that wishes I had served in a different era of Congress, a more productive time,” the congressman said as he drove through his district, which extends from the Denver suburbs.

“I’ve worked very closely with a lot of Democrats and built really good friendships on a lot of important issues. But it just wasn’t happening enough.”

Buck has been particularly critical of fellow Republicans who parrot the lie about a stolen 2020 election, or condone the attempted overthrow of the government on January 6, proving that it is possible to be a staunch conservative and still live and work in the real world.

“There are some Trump people who have been elected to Congress who are just baffled,” Buck said. “They just don’t belong in Congress. I don’t know how else to say it.’

Who is to blame for turning the House into a Boschian hellscape?

Buck mentions both Trump and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He says the San Francisco Democrat too often personalized political disagreements.

Blumenauer, one of the most liberal members of the House of Representatives, agrees with the part about Trump. He also blames the destructive influence of cable television and social media, which create a warped incentive structure that rewards bombast and conflict over thoughtfulness and compromise.

“There are more and more people who are not interested in being serious partners in governing,” Blumenauer said. “It’s all performative. That’s what it is.” [saying] “The most outrageous things possible, which gets them airtime on…Fox News and MSNBC and TikTok.”

Despite all this, the Oregon Democrat described himself as “pathologically optimistic” and suggested there is a way out of the current morass of dysfunction in Congress.

It starts with non-ideological issues, such as roads, bridges and bike paths, on which Blumenauer has focused much of his career, using agreements in those areas to build trust.

“What needs to happen, I think, is that we can take a deep breath and focus on an agenda of inclusion and reform,” he said. “Different rhetoric and hard work to get bipartisan partners.”

Buck is less optimistic. He suggests that it may take something shocking and horrible to bring the country together and free the troublesome politicians from their childish antics and self-centered bickering.

“America is never more united than when we have a crisis,” Buck said. “After 9/11, everyone was hugging and kissing and putting country first. So sometimes you just need a crisis, no matter how terrible it is.”

Reaching bottom can be the first step to recovery. Perhaps we have reached that point with the current Congress, led by nihilists and narcissists who can barely fulfill the basic responsibilities of electing a functional leader and keeping the government running.

It’s hard to see how things could get much worse, even though anything is possible in today’s Washington.


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