Impeachment aside: there’s work to be done

Now that President Trump’s impeachment process is formally underway, Democrats and Republicans need to avoid becoming completely absorbed by it. They must work together on other important issues such as immigration, health care, education, infrastructure, environment and trade agreements.

Impeaching a president can be all consuming and is polarizing. It is more prevalent today than it was prior to Richard Nixon’s presidency (1969-74). Before Nixon, only Andrew Jackson had been impeached and removed from office. That was in 1868. Jackson was found to be too lenient on the former Confederate states after the Civil War.

Nixon, who is credited with opening trade relations with China, ending the Vietnam War and passing the federal clean water act, was destined to be impeached, convicted by the Senate and removed from office had he not resigned in August 1974. White House tapes tied him to the burglary of Democrat headquarters in the Watergate office complex.

On Dec. 19, 1998, the House of Representatives impeached Bill Clinton on the grounds of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with an extramarital affair with a White House intern. The Senate ultimately tried and acquitted him.

Now, Donald Trump faces impeachment and where that goes, nobody knows. But while impeachment is underway, other congressional work cannot be delayed.

In 1973-74, I was a press aide to a Montana Congressman in Washington, D.C. My office overlooked the Rayburn Building where the House Judiciary Committee was conducting closed door impeachment hearings. While it was distracting, we were immersed in drafting legislation to restructure the Penn Central railroad. That was top priority.

Penn Central was part of a critical transportation network east of Chicago which was literally falling apart. The iconic railroad was losing more than $1 million a day, railcars were falling off tracks, and poorly trained dispatchers literally lost trains throughout the system. A load of lumber destined for Newark landed in a Cleveland railyard.

Republicans and Democrats worked together to create the Consolidated Rail Corporation, or Conrail, to restore dependable rail service. Today, as CSX, the system is a key link to moving freight nationwide.

Bipartisan work also lead to passage of the federal Clean Water Act and forming of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all of which Nixon signed into law. The bottom line is despite the deep divisions over impeachment, Congress and the administration still got things done.

In the 1970s, congressional staffs would meet and exchange ideas on how to reach agreements of key policies. Things would get testy, but somehow tempers cooled and things got done. Today, that collegiality is missing. The atmosphere is toxic and that is bad for America and hugely costly to the American taxpayers.

Here are some ways to deal with it.

First, set aside personal differences and do what is best for our country.

Second, consider impeachment an issue and not the issue. As was done with the restructuring of the Penn Central and passage of the Clean Water Act, find ways to work together. If the president vetoes the legislation, override his veto.

Third, make the impeachment proceedings open, fair and transparent. All sides need an adequate opportunity to present their points.

Fourth, trading nasty personal insults in tweets and press conferences are corrosive and counterproductive. While they make for juicy headlines and fuel television talk shows, they only drive people apart.

Finally, insist on fair and accurate reporting. Reporters need to factually report the news without slanting it toward their bias. That won’t restrict editorializing, but it will be commentary and not the news.

Refocusing on resolving important policy matters. Impeachment aside: there’s work to be done.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

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