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