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It’s a hot mess in DC: Biden’s mental acuity, Trump’s courtroom drama, Congress’ stalemate

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The president’s lawyer goes on TV to defend his client’s mental acuity. The likely Republican presidential nominee heads toward winning one unprecedented court case and losing another. And the House speaker tries to figure out how to get his raucous caucus to pass even legislation they support.

Washington, never a tidy place, has descended into a hot mess.

Let’s start at the White House. President Joe Biden’s personal lawyer, Bob Bauer, on Sunday defended the commander in chief’s mental fitness and accused the special prosecutor who questioned it in his investigative report of having political motives.

“You have to wonder” if Robert Hur added pejorative comments about Biden’s memory to “placate” Republicans who would be angry about the decision not to prosecute the president for his handling of sensitive documents, Bauer told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Meanwhile, at D.C. courthouses, Supreme Court justices Thursday signaled during oral arguments they were likely to block efforts to keep Trump off the ballot in Colorado and elsewhere − a win for him. But an appeals court panel two days earlier unanimously rejected his argument that he should have presidential immunity from criminal prosecution.

That’s a bigger loss, one that increases the prospects he’ll face a trial before Election Day on criminal charges related to the Jan. 6 attack.

All that overshadowed the meltdown on Capitol Hill when new-ish House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., on Tuesday lost back-to-back votes on Republican priorities he had expected to pass, one to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and another to send aid to Israel.

We’ve had embattled presidents, stalemated Congresses and inflammatory campaigns before, of course, but usually not all at once.

While crisis is no stranger to official Washington, the breadth of dysfunction in the space of a week may mark a new high in recent times. Or low.

Hello to the next nine months

Despite debates over whether Biden’s age is a problem and if Trump will be convicted of a felony, both men remain on fast tracks to claim their parties’ presidential nomination.

Biden won more than 96% of the vote in this month’s first sanctioned Democratic primary, in South Carolina, with challengers Marianne Williamson, an inspirational author, and Dean Phillips, a Minnesota congressman, eking out only about 2% each.

The once-sprawling Republican field has narrowed to Trump and a single challenger, former United Nation ambassador Nikki Haley. But in the next Republican primary, in her home state of South Carolina, he is trouncing her by 2-1, 65%-32%, in recent polls averaged by fivethirtyeight.com.

That’s despite the findings in a new ABC News/Ipsos poll that shows deep voter unease about both leading contenders. In the online survey, taken Friday and Saturday, 86% said Biden (he’s 81) was too old to serve another term, and 61% said Trump (he’s 77) was too old.

With their nominations all but guaranteed anyway, the landscape is set for the longest general election in American history − and, to all appearances, one of the most brutal. The GOP portrays Biden as feeble. Democrats call Trump dangerous.

Republicans spotlighted the special counsel’s description of Biden as “an elderly man with a poor memory,” and worse. On “Fox News Sunday,” Alabama Sen. Tom Cotton called Biden “a failed president, and the Democratic Party knows the only way to stop Donald Trump from being elected this fall is to convict him and imprison him.”

Democrats rallied behind Biden. “This kind of sense that he’s not ready for this job is just a bucket of BS that’s so deep, your boots will get stuck in it,” campaign co-chair Mitch Landrieu said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

There was a furor, too, over Trump’s comments at a rally in South Carolina Saturday. He said he had warned an unidentified European leader that as president he would refuse to defend countries in the NATO alliance that hadn’t paid all their dues. “In fact, I would encourage [Russia] to do whatever they want,” he declared. “You gotta pay.”

“NATO isn’t a protection racket,” Delaware Sen. Chris Coons protested on ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s a security alliance.”

Republicans were unperturbed.

“I have zero concern” about what he said, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said dismissively on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Then he added, “But there has to be an alliance.”

That ray of bipartisan light? No more

There had been one bipartisan ray of light, but it was extinguished over the past week, too.

Senate Republicans Wednesday blocked a $118 billion legislative package that included provisions to tighten the southern border and to send aid to Ukraine. It had been negotiated over weeks by conservative Republican James Lankford of Oklahoma, liberal Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and independent Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Prospects in the Senate had been promising, but they were already difficult in the House when Trump denounced it, sealing its fate.

“It was not a very productive week in Washington, D.C., whether it was for the Congress or for the president,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said in an interview on ABC. “And I think that’s what frustrates people when you look around the country.”

At the moment, the question in Washington isn’t how things will get better.

It’s this: Could they get worse?

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