A democracy that doesn’t work and can’t be fixed

A couple of decades ago, Tim Penny rather shocked some learned Washington observers when he decided not to run for re-election to Congress. The Waseca DFLer left the hosts of the McNeil-Lehrer report on PBS fairly speechless when he said he couldn’t make a difference in the job.

How on earth, they wondered, could one of only 435 people in one of the most exclusive and powerful clubs on the planet be irrelevant?

The reaction in 1995 seems rather quaint now. Nobody makes much of a difference in Congress anymore.

Just ask Rep. Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican, who has thrown in the towel. He’s the guest today on the New York Times’ The Daily, where he mirrors, almost word for word, Penny’s revelation. The only difference? Rooney is in the party in power; Penny wasn’t.

What Rooney, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, is basically saying would’ve shocked a nation just a few years ago: Democracy doesn’t work.

This week, Rooney called for an end to the investigation into Russian influence in the last election, not because he doesn’t think there’s evidence that Russia manipulated the democratic process, but because he thinks Democrats are using it “to manipulate the media of the day.” He says he doesn’t mean that to sound as partisan as it does.

Rooney is the one who asked Hope Hicks if she was ever told to lie about anything related to the Russia investigation. “The answer was ‘no’, but it already got out to the press that Hope Hicks had told ‘white lies’ for the president and that drove the media for the rest of the day.”

The media wasn’t in that hearing. Intelligence Committees are closed. Her comments were leaked.

“This is an investigation to see who can get to the media first to see who can make the other side look bad,” he said. He’s including his own party in the assessment.

“The [Intelligence Committee] used to be completely non partisan and what we did down there was a secret, and it was the one place of refuge in the House where you could go and check your party identification at the door because we were there to find out what our spies were doing and what we’re doing in the clandestine world in the intelligence community and help them do their jobs,” he said.

“There has been a complete breakdown of any kind of cordiality down there,” he told the Times.

It can’t be fixed, he says, acknowledging that maybe Democrats are saying the same thing about him.

But his assessment should be considered in a non-partisan fashion. If a democratic institution to assess and respond to threats to democracy can’t be fixed, what are we doing?

“I think it’s irreconcilable at this point,” he said.

To be sure, Rooney is a partisan. He’s convinced the FBI investigation of Russian influence is politically motivated and he defends the release of the memo from Republicans on the committee claiming so.

“It’s really kind of sad, given the subject of national security and the sanctity of our elections,” host Michael Barbaro said.

“Yeah,” Rooney said.