- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

President Bush’s trip to rally the troops on Capitol Hill last week couldn’t have come at a better time. With a long list of unfinished business in the Senate and recent poll numbers revealing less than enthusiastic views of Republican leadership, the mood of Republicans in Congress has been dispirited. The president’s trip down Pennsylvania Avenue was a welcome reminder that Republicans need to do a better job of working together. While the two Republican chambers may have legitimate complaints about each other and the White House, they serve neither their party’s nor their country’s interest airing them in public. Both party and country need maximum cohesion now, which is undermined by rude comments.

The message came after a hard week for Hill Republicans. On Wednesday, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, belittled Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, in front of a pool of reporters. The speaker at first pretended not to know who the senator was, and then questioned Mr. McCain’s understanding of the importance of sacrifice in wartime. Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, took a swipe at his Republican counterpart who chairs the Senate Armed Services Commitee, John Warner of Virginia. Referring to Mr. Warner’s extensive public hearings into abuse in Iraqi prisons, Mr. Hunter charges, “The Senate is mesmerized by cameras.” The week also saw Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist criticized by fellow Republicans for cutting a deal with Democratic Leader Sen. Tom Daschle to get some but not all of the president’s judicial nominees to the floor for an up or down vote.

Democrats are arguing that last week’s Republican bickering is symbolic of the party’s inability to get the year’s legislative work done. The Senate had to cancel a vote Thursday on the $2.4 trillion budget because it didn’t have support for passage. Leadership aides are skeptical whether they can get a bill done at all. The Senate postponed a vote on the defense spending bill until after the Memorial Day recess as well. Within the party, there is a difference of opinion on how to handle unfinished business. Mr. Frist wants to get as many bills done as possible, while Sen. Rick Santorum is worried that forced legislation this late in the year will involve too many compromises that might not sit well with the conservative base. The White House, meanwhile, has issued veto threats against both the Republican highway bill and the defense bill for being too costly.

Republicans need a plan to bring the party together. One way is to create an opportunity for Democrats to filibuster important legislation and appointments. Given the election, it would be savvy to make Democrats go on the record as blocking the nation’s business. Such a strategy would turn the legislative negative of unfinished bills into a campaign positive by being able to blame obstructionist Democrats for the chamber coming to a halt. It is better than more Republican infighting.

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