The work to be done

The busi­ness of gov­ern­ing can­not stag­nate while the spe­cial coun­sel and Congress con­duct their Rus­sia probes.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - ED­I­TO­RI­ALS

PRES­I­DENT TRUMP HAD two re­sponses to last week’s ap­point­ment of a spe­cial coun­sel to take over the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion — one un­be­com­ing, the other some­what rea­son­able. “The en­tire thing has been a witch hunt,” Mr. Trump de­clared at a Thurs­day news con­fer­ence, deny­ing that there was any col­lu­sion be­tween his cam­paign and Rus­sian op­er­a­tives seek­ing to dis­rupt the 2016 elec­tion. “I think it di­vides the coun­try.” That is rich com­ing from a man who has ex­ac­er­bated na­tional di­vi­sions for po­lit­i­cal gain, and whose abrupt and un­nec­es­sary dis­missal of FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey spurred the ap­point­ment of a spe­cial coun­sel.

But, the pres­i­dent later said, “we have to get back to run­ning this coun­try re­ally, re­ally well.” Put­ting aside that Mr. Trump has not yet run the coun­try well, there is some wisdom there.

It will take time for spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III to con­duct a fair in­ves­ti­ga­tion, par­tic­u­larly if he is to be ap­pro­pri­ately thor­ough, ex­am­in­ing any fi­nan­cial con­nec­tions Mr. Trump has to Rus­sia and any pres­sure the pres­i­dent put on the FBI to drop its in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Mean­while, the rev­e­la­tions of the past two weeks de­mand that the House and Se­nate in­ten­sify their own Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Congress has a new charge: con­sid­er­ing whether the pres­i­dent com­mit­ted ob­struc­tion of jus­tice, which only law­mak­ers are em­pow­ered to de­cide. Yet they, too, will re­quire time if they are to as­sess the is­sues Congress is uniquely suited to probe — any non­crim­i­nal mis­judg­ments and eth­i­cal lapses by Mr. Trump and his cir­cle, not to men­tion how to pre­pare the coun­try for fu­ture Rus­sian cy­ber­at­tacks.

The coun­try’s busi­ness can­not stag­nate in the mean­time. That means Mr. Trump must stop ex­press­ing and act­ing on his un­de­served sense of self-pity. It means that Democrats will have to talk about some­thing other than im­peach­ment in the com­ing weeks. And it means that con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans will have to face the task at which they have so far failed: gov­ern­ing re­spon­si­bly.

The coun­try’s health-care sys­tem is on the verge of cri­sis, in­duced in large part by Repub­li­can re­fusal to ad­min­is­ter the sys­tem prop­erly. The avail­abil­ity of cru­cial fed­eral sub­si­dies the gov­ern­ment promised to health in­sur­ers re­mains in doubt, be­cause of ad­min­is­tra­tion and con­gres­sional bungling. Mean­while, Repub­li­cans’ ham-handed ef­fort to re­write fed­eral health pol­icy — which re­quires tweak­ing, not a desta­bi­liz­ing over­haul — has only stoked more un­cer­tainty among the in­sur­ers upon which the sys­tem re­lies.

Mean­while, the world waits to see whether Mr. Trump will with­draw the United States from the Paris cli­mate agree­ment, an un­think­ably ir­ra­tional move that would en­rage al­lied gov­ern­ments for no ma­te­rial ben­e­fit — but that ide­o­logues such as En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt fa­vor.

Come Septem­ber, Congress will have to pass a new bud­get and raise the debt ceil­ing, fac­ing the sorts of dead­lines that have in the past re­sulted in messy, last-minute leg­isla­tive fights. Tax re­form that re­moves the un­der­brush of ex­cep­tions, loop­holes and other com­plex­i­ties in the tax code would be worthwhile, but only if Repub­li­cans ac­cept that such re­form can­not come at the ex­pense of de­fund­ing health-care pro­grams and can­not re­sult in higher deficits.

Abroad, North Korea con­tin­ues to ad­vance to­ward a ca­pa­bil­ity to launch mis­siles with nu­clear war­heads that could reach the United States. Syria re­mains a char­nel house and the Is­lamic State a se­ri­ous threat. U.S. al­lies are con­cerned that chaos in Wash­ing­ton will in­vite Iran, Rus­sia and other hos­tile pow­ers to take ad­van­tage in ways they would not other­wise dare.

So yes, the pres­i­dent and Congress need to fo­cus on run­ning the coun­try. And run­ning it well, for a change.

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