Al Franken

The Wonder and Worry Surrounding Washington, DC

The nation’s capital is preparing for Christmas, but there isn’t much cheer on Capitol Hill as lawmakers narrowly avert a government shutdown, try to unsnarl problems in tax-cut legislation and muddle through sexual misconduct scandals

The nation’s capital is preparing for Christmas, but there isn’t much cheer on Capitol Hill as lawmakers narrowly avert a government shutdown, try to unsnarl problems in tax-cut legislation and muddle through sexual misconduct scandals

Congress temporarily averted a pre-Christmas federal government shutdown by approving a two-week spending resolutionHouse and Senate conferees are trying to work out differences, including an apparent $287 billion math error, in a $1.4 trillion tax-cut measure. House Speaker Paul Ryan foreshadowed entitlement spending cuts next year to curb a ballooning federal budget deficit.

A prominent Democratic House member and senator have resigned amid sexual misconduct scandals. An Arizona GOP congressman is quitting after discussing surrogacy with two staff members. Alabama is likely to send a new senator to Washington, DC who has been accused of dating teenage girls, denies any wrongdoing and says he would bring Alabama values to Capitol Hill.

President Trump announced he will send his long-promised infrastructure funding package to Congress in January without mentioning that private activity bonds, a key financing tool for transportation and affordable housing projects, may be eviscerated beforehand in tax legislation he has championed.

Trump efforts to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement are faltering amid concerns by many business sectors that what Trump wants in a new deal would hurt existing trade and endanger US manufacturing jobs. The United States has walked away from a trade deal with its Pacific Rim neighbors, but the deal is not dead. Japan is leading continuing talks, which could lead to provisions less favorable to the United States and, eventually a seat at the table for China.

Ignoring warnings by top Cabinet officials, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while urging progress on stalled peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Two days later, Palestinian leaders refused to meet with Vice President Mike Pence.

Revelations in the Russian election meddling investigation continue to roll out, inflamed by a Trump tweet, a whistleblower’s account and Donald Trump Jr. who said what he told his dad after the infamous meeting with Russians last summer was protected by attorney-client privilege.

People abroad might be excused for wondering and worrying what is happening in the United States. People who live in the United States are wondering and worrying, too.

The President goes out of his way to stir the pot – retweeting inflammatory videos, pulling the rug out from under his GOP Capitol Hill colleagues and amping up rhetoric aimed at North Korea. Congress has failed to deliver a major legislative victory to Trump in his first year in office and is still fumbling with the last-chance tax bill. A late addition to the Senate version that would retain the corporate alternative minimum tax has caused corporate leaders – putatively the biggest winners in the measure – to voice concern. Polling indicates the tax bill is unpopular, including with many Republicans.

Democrats and Republicans are growing even more polarized. After a Trump tweet, the House and Senate Democratic leaders refused to join a White House pow-wow on spending and debt ceiling legislation. Their GOP counterparts called the snub rude. Trump said Democrats were putting border security at risk.

The parties have been split over cultural issues for a long time, but sexual misconduct scandals have turned litmus tests into flash points. The resignations of Democratic Congressman John Conyers and Senator Al Franken, which were accelerated by a collective shove in their backs by fellow Democrats, put the party on presumably higher moral ground to denounce Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore and Trump, each of whom has been accused by multiple women for sexual misconduct. Arizona Congressman Trent Franks apparently got the message.

Ryan’s prediction that action will be needed next year to stem the budget deficit could push Congress onto third-rail political issues such as Social Security and Medicare, as well as Medicaid. Conservative GOP members want to boost military spending while trimming spending and the deficit. Democrats are pressing for more domestic spending and to keep hands off Social Security and Medicare.

It is not a pretty picture, with a bruising holiday mash-up looming between now and December 22 over a longer spending measure and an increase in the debt ceiling.


Aiken Treads Celebrity Footsteps to Congress

Congress already has a comic, now a pop singer is trying to join him. American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken has announced a bid for a North Carolina congressional seat.

People snickered when Al Franken entered politics, but it was no joke when he rode his comic reputation on Saturday Night Live and a syndicated political talk show to victory over incumbent Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman in 2008.

Skeptics doubt whether Aiken, despite his high-profile discovery on American Idol, music tours and bestselling book, can win a congressional seat in North Carolina, where he was born, grew up and eventually became a special education teacher in Raleigh. The skepticism centers on Aiken's political affiliation, activism and announcement in 2008 that he gay.

Some detractors also point out ‑ he is a perpetual loser, including being the runner-up in the fifth season of The Celebrity Apprentice in 2012.

But the Aiken story may not be so simplistic. Before he broke through on American Idol, Aiken, who grew up as a "proud Southern Baptist," specialized in contemporary Christian music. Christian Music Planet labeled Aiken an "American Idol Christian" in 2004. Some of his most popular work is on Christmas albums.

Aiken has a son who was born in North Carolina in 2008 and, in Southern tradition, was given his grandmother's maiden name, Foster, as his first name. The boy's mother is the sister of the producer of three of Aiken's albums.

In addition to the people interested in seeing a pop star at their local library, Aiken may be able to draw political support from his activism on behalf of AIDS prevention, gender equity and programs such as Toys for Tots. Aiken is credited with founding the National Inclusion Project that runs summer camps for children with physical and mental disabilities. President George W. Bush appointed Aiken to a presidential commission dealing with people with intellectual disabilities.