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The U.S. Capitol is an arena. A coliseum devoted to fights about politics and policy. But that’s not the case when the flag-draped coffin of a former president is lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda.
“Left. Left. Left. Hut!” sounded a military honor guard as they hoisted the casket of former President George H. W. Bush up the Capitol steps and between its Corinthian columns.
Politics was on hold at the U.S. Capitol Monday to remember the nation’s 41st president.
During his remarks in the Rotunda, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., remembered the first time he ever got involved with politics. It was the 1988 presidential campaign for then-Vice President Bush, running for president against Democrat Michael Dukakis.
Ryan explained he handed out Bush leaflets in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. Ryan was a freshman at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 1988. He recounted how Bush came to campus to a campaign rally that fall outside of Harrison Hall, named after President Benjamin Harrison, a Miami graduate.
But even though a political campaign helped introduce a future House speaker to politics more than three decades ago, politicians checked their disputes at the Capitol Rotunda doors.
“This Rotunda is a trumpet call to glory,” the speaker said, his voice echoing off the marble walls. “Tributes to the giants, all the way up to the sky.”
Ryan’s words caromed off the statues of President Dwight Eisenhower and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They reverberated off the ceiling fresco of George Washington rising into heaven. They rang off the paintings of the Founding Fathers meeting in Constitution Hall and British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis surrendering at Yorktown.
On Capitol Hill, it is said that Congress doesn’t “do” politics in the Capitol Rotunda. Lawmakers and staff and lobbyists “do” politics everywhere else on Capitol Hill. But the Rotunda is a solemn place, shielded from the fray. While everyone assembled in the Rotunda to honor the 41st president, the imbroglios which dominate Capitol Hill marinated offstage.
Word came around midday that the House wouldn’t hold any rollcall votes this week. The plan was to approve an interim, two-week spending measure to cover the remaining five bills and fund the government through December 21. The former president’s death, lying in state in the Rotunda, and funeral services at the National Cathedral in Washington and in Texas seem to drive the decision.
A senior congressional source tells Fox News that lawmakers are increasingly resigned to working up until Christmas to resolve outstanding issues. And there’s a lot more besides funding the government. There’s a farm bill. A supplemental spending bill to help the Carolinas recover from hurricanes and assist California after its wildfires. Maybe even some aid for Alaska following the big earthquake last week. There could be a measure on pensions. Criminal justice reform lurks in the background. The Senate may even tinker with a white-hot resolution about the civil war in Yemen.
House Republicans, now in the majority, seem to advocate the two-week plan. Fox News is told a scheduled meeting for Tuesday between President Trump, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is off. Top House Democratic sources say they’re fine with a two-week extension. But they’d prefer one.
Senators are resigned to handle whatever legislation the House sends over — even though they don’t like it.
“It means we haven’t resolved anything. We’re still at an impasse,” groused Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala. “Will (the delay) bring us together? Or push us apart?”
“I don’t know why we’d want a two-week CR (continuing resolution) to go up to December 21,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas. “We know what needs to be done.”
Cornyn noted that in 2009, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., muscled through the first version of Obamacare with a pre-dawn vote on Christmas Eve day.
“What a Grinch!” declared Cornyn of his former colleague.
Regardless, many on Capitol Hill believe the sides couldn’t have wrapped things up before the original spending deadline of 11:59:59 p.m. ET Friday.
“I wish we could have finished this week,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations panel. “Shelby and I were ready to finish this week. The House has taken another week off.”
How do they overcome the stalemate over the wall?
“That’s a good question,” said Shelby.
“The president gave his solemn word that Mexico will pay for it,” said Leahy.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., is the incoming House Republican Conference chairwoman, the third-highest ranking GOPer on the House.
Could the extra two weeks help?
“It may,” said Cheney. “But we have a fundamental problem on the Democratic side. Everything that Leader Pelosi does is based on her getting the votes to become speaker. She has to placate her party. Even the far left.”
And by the same token, Republicans must placate their party on the border wall. Even the far right. House Republicans twice defeated bills which fully paid for the border wall this summer. Plus, whatever bill does move must command 60 votes to overcome a Senate filibuster.
So no one quite knows how this finishes.
“If we can get an agreement on some numbers, you can turn on a dime,” observed Shelby.
Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrived at the Capitol around 8:30 p.m. Monday night to pay their respects to Bush. They spent about a minute at the casket, placed their hands over their hearts and clasped one another’s hands. Trump saluted the 41st president before departing.
While all of this was going on, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic Socialist elected to New York’s 14th Congressional District last month, led a forum in the Hart Senate Office Building on climate change. There were whispered conversations about how the new spending package may work. Senators prepped their questions for the Tuesday morning conclave with Haspel.
In his remarks at the ceremony, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., described the Rotunda as a “hallowed cathedral. Beneath paintings that tell the story of our land. Our liberty. Flanked by statues of his fellow champions whom he joined in making that story possible.”
The Capitol Rotunda is just that. A cathedral. There’s no political bickering and backstabbing there. But the battles continue elsewhere: in the Congressional arena.