Washington is in a funk. A cold June makes things feel out of season. June is meant for picnics, blue garden flowers, and frolicking under a full moon.
First, the PATRIOT Act expired at midnight Monday. Imagine a law that keeps watch on us all — just leaving the building. Somehow the nation survived for a day or two. Now it’s back, “reformed” as the USA Freedom Act. Breathe easy.
Republican Senate leaders were mad as wasps at Rand Paul, one of their own, for taking a grand stand against it. Back in 2001, when it passed after 9/11, only one senator voted against it: Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat.
Deadlines are approaching, like the end of school. The deadline for an Iranian nuclear deal is June 30. The Supreme Court hands down their decisions in June. Obamacare is on the docket, in danger again. Set up in the 1930s, the Export-Import Bank’s charter, helping commerce overseas, expires in days. This is raising howls from lawmakers like Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).
At the White House, the press corps is out of sorts. Feeling ignored at a distance, correspondents say it’s hard to get access to President Obama — and campaign frontrunner Hillary Clinton. At a Kalb Report forum at the National Press Club in early June, Ed Henry of Fox News noted that Clinton went “28 days without a question.”
Once in a blue moon, the Obama administration has to reach out to Congress — read: savvy Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader — to get a big deal done, this time on trade. The president likes to act alone, ducking the old-fashioned horse trading that used to make life a joy in this city.
Meanwhile, Democrats fret they don’t have enough candidates for president as Hillary Clinton’s polls numbers soften. Problem solved: Former independent governor Lincoln Chafee, also ex-Republican senator, of Rhode Island, just jumped in as a “brand”-new Democrat. With Texas governor Rick Perry joining the fray, Republicans have too many seekers in the field and are right to worry. A leading man, Jeb Bush, is what Hollywood calls a “room emptier.” The British phrase: “heavy furniture.”
The grand Arlington Memorial Bridge suddenly has to have emergency closures and repairs. The bridge’s gold sculptures on the Washington side frame the Lincoln Memorial. It connects to Arlington, Virginia, where many people live and cross over the Potomac River to work every day. The 1930s masterpiece also connects President Abraham Lincoln and Civil War general Robert E. Lee, once the Arlington slave plantation master. How apt, the union is crumbling.
The National Cathedral’s charming gift shop, the Herb Cottage, is the same 1930s-vintage. The gift shop gave me so many grace notes. Who knew what a strawberry huller was? Some ladies who worked and volunteered there belonged to another genteel age. The millennials kept it current. Run by the women’s All Hallows Guild to benefit Cathedral gardens and grounds, the shop is closing its doors June 30. There’s a new dean and bishop in town.
Then the bell that made the village weep: Vice President Joe Biden’s fine beloved son, Beau Biden, dying at 46 of brain cancer. That is really out of time and season.
I watched the evening news with dread. There was David Petraeus, the former “surge” Army general, in civilian clothes as an expert on Iraq. Soon the compress is on my head. More military involvement, says he, is what we need. (Because we did so well before.)
On top of it all, CBS newsman Bob Schieffer retired, signing off from moderating Face the Nation. Through every beat at CBS News in Washington since 1969, he became one of Washington’s (few) wise men. In his Texas folksy way, he thanked people for having him as a guest in their homes. “That meant the world to me,” he said in farewell.
And I almost cried. Strictly speaking, the 78-year-old Schieffer had announced he’d step down in the “summer.” So I braced for losing my Sunday religion. But May 31 is still spring.
Right now the city feels like fall, as a cab driver remarked. Spring, come back soon.
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Photo: Vinoth Chandar via Flickr