El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, couldn’t be more different.
But they’re the same, now.
El Paso and Dayton are identical with Newtown, San Bernardino, Aurora, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, Blacksburg and a host of other places.
This is why we fear August.
Beware of August. No month on the calendar warps the standard conventions for news like August. It shreds the quotidian with some of the most apocalyptic events imaginable … or unimaginable. August imposes its will, vexing members of Congress, presidents, cabinet officials, mayors and other leaders with the most catastrophic of circumstances. August tears the norms asunder, often steering a new political course for the nation – and sometimes the world.
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The House and Senate usually abandon Washington for the fabled “August recess.” When it comes to Congress and politics, that’s precisely why people worry about August.
Some of the weirdest, most-influential events in American and global politics unfold in August.
Volatile political town halls erupt into chaos. We’ve had occasional recalls of Congress to Washington to wrestle with emerging issues or international crises. There was even a major earthquake (an actual geological one, not a political one) in Washington, D.C., during August a few years ago.
Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, sparking the first Gulf War several months later. The U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. That ended World War II weeks later.
The East German government erected the Berlin Wall in August 1961.
President Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974.
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The U.S. lurched into the Vietnam War as Congress approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964. The measure’s stated goal was to “promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia.” In reality, the resolution dragged the U.S. into a land war in Asia. That congressional blessing did nothing but fuel years of political dissent back home.
Few in Washington will forget the lasting political impact of Hurricane Katrina lashing New Orleans in August 2005.
“Beware the Ides of March,” wrote Shakespeare in “Julius Caesar.” The Bard could have written about what President Trump said on Aug. 15, 2017 — the “Ides” of August.” Mr. Trump uttered some of the most controversial remarks of his presidency that day about the Charlottesville, Va., melee a few days before.
The president claimed “There is blame on both sides,” adding there “were very fine people on both sides.”
Last August featured the double political whammy of a guilty verdict in the federal corruption trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a guilty plea by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen – within minutes of each other.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., died in August of last year.
In early August 2011, Congress approved the Budget Control Act to impose mandatory spending caps and hike the debt ceiling. Congress lived with those spending caps until last week. That vote marked the end of a tumultuous struggle over hiking the debt ceiling as the sides tried to marshal a “grand bargain” to constrain federal spending. Those efforts failed and lawmakers were stuck with the mandatory spending caps, known as “sequestration.”
It’s pretty simple. August is a defining month.
It’s pretty early in this August. But we think we know what will define this August. Better yet, how August will define American politics.
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Of course, just a day or two ago, we thought impeachment or a spate of retirements by House Republicans could define August. Maybe another tweetstorm about Baltimore. To be sure, there’s still lots of runway in August.
The impeachment front bears watching this month. More than half of all congressional Democrats now support impeachment for President Trump or commissioning an impeachment inquiry. And it’s not just liberal Democrats anymore. Democrats who won battleground districts last year are increasingly demanding an impeachment inquest. Take Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. Wexton just flipped her district from red to blue. Republicans now are goading moderate Democrats who seized other districts last fall to also endorse impeachment.
Here’s a mantra we often use in this space: It’s about the math. It’s about the math. It’s about the math. With more than half of all 235 House Democrats now backing impeachment, one wonders how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will respond to the impeachment push. But slightly more than half of the 235 House Democrats pushing impeachment isn’t 190 or 200. While “it’s about the math” in some respects,” it’s certainly “about the math” in other respects. The House is a long way from having the votes to impeach President Trump on the floor. Pelosi is keenly aware of both metrics. But Pelosi will inevitably have to respond in some fashion.
The House of Representatives is scheduled to be in recess until Sept. 9. But August could determine where the party goes with impeachment. Could there be a groundswell for impeachment? Or does the conversation lose its zing, struggling for relevance amid the fading vapor trail of the Robert Mueller hearings?
But El Paso and Dayton could well demarcate this August.
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House Democrats have a pre-scheduled conference call at noon ET Monday. The call was on the books before the shootings this weekend. One senior congressional source tells Fox News the call could determine whether Democratic leaders recall the House to work on gun-related legislation. Dozens of Democratic lawmakers demand that Congress reconvene. In particular, many Democrats are clamoring for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to summon the Senate back to town to address some of the firearms legislation already approved by the House. But it’s doubtful McConnell would do that. In addition, the Kentucky Republican just fell at his home over the weekend and is nursing a fractured shoulder.
From the perspective of Democrats, there are several pieces of legislation the House could tackle.
Multiple sources tell Fox News the Disarm Hate Act is ready to go to the floor. The bill bars people convicted of a hate crime from possessing firearms.
Fox is told there’s still work to do on “Extreme Risk Protection Orders” and how to grapple “red flag” problems. In other words, how do authorities balance constitutional rights and seize weapons from mentally disturbed persons or those with other issues?
Legislation banning high-capacity magazines is ready but Democrats would still need to massage that subject with rank-and-file members.
Despite the din, House Democrats are not yet ready to advance a bill to outlaw “assault weapons.” Such arms were barred for a decade as a part of the 1994 Crime Bill – authored by former Vice President and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. In fact, Congress had to return to Washington during the August recess of 1994 to lug that measure across the finish line. But the assault weapons ban expired in 2004. Congress did not renew the prohibition.
Some Democratic sources tell Fox pressure could mount for Pelosi to recall the House this month, considering the Democrats’ rhetoric on guns. Moreover, such a move could increase pressure on Senate Republicans. This dynamic is amplified since House Democrats repeatedly describe the Republican-controlled Senate as a “legislative graveyard” and criticize McConnell’s stewardship. One source told Fox it could be impossible for Democrats not to rally back to Washington, to at least appear as though they are addressing the issue and Senate Republicans are not.
Pelosi and McConnell can recall their respective bodies at their own discretion. That said, Democrats aren’t prepared to return yet. We’re told Democrats would have to develop a legislative strategy behind an August session and make sure everyone in their caucus is in agreement. And, perhaps most importantly, they’d have to make sure they have the votes on any gun-related bills.
In addition, Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution says the President “may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of Them.”
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No chief executive has deployed this gambit since President Harry Truman.
And so here we are. August is proving to be more flammable this year than most. And we’ve got three-and-a-half weeks yet to go.
The abnormal is just the norm in August.