Paul Ryan: The Good, the Bad and the Truly Disappointing
He never wanted the job. He never lived up to his potential. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom

OPINION — It’s hard to excel in a job you never wanted in the first place. That seems to be one of the primary takeaways from the three years Paul Ryan served as House speaker since Republicans practically begged him to step into the void they created when they ran John Boehner off from the job in 2015.

Add to Ryan’s burden the fact that he had to work with a president who was his opposite in every measure but party affiliation, and it’s easy to think Ryan’s speakership was doomed from the start. But it wasn’t all bad for the gentleman from Janesville. Let’s review.

From Bush’s Lips to Our Ears: To Heck With Campaign Promises
His fateful tax deal should inspire us to do what’s right, not what’s re-electable

OPINION — There are two kinds of politicians in Washington when it’s all said and done — the kind who do what they have to do to get re-elected, and the kind who do what they believe they should do because it’s the right thing.

For all of the speeches and sound bites, the campaign ads and polling, it’s really not more complicated than that. Every decision in the capital comes back to that fundamental choice.

Nancy Pelosi’s Leadership Lessons for Bossy Girls Everywhere
This week in Washington will matter much more than a TED Talk on how we beat down women who lead

It’s hard to look away when Nancy Pelosi is whipping her caucus in a leadership race. It’s like watching a lion drag down an antelope twice its size or a slow-motion shark attack. Even though you think you know how it ends, the sheer power on display keeps you watching.

Take last week, after 16 Democrats announced that they would oppose Pelosi for speaker — just enough opposition to kill her bid. Within hours, her operation went about knocking the naysayers down one by one, along with Pelosi’s only announced challenger, Rep. Marcia Fudge, who dropped her bid after Pelosi re-started a dormant subcommittee on voting rights and put Fudge in charge of it. There are still murmurings of discontent in this corner or that, but the momentum seems to have shifted perceptibly to a second Pelosi speakership through a combination of Pelosi-sponsored sweeteners, tightening screws, and sheer force of will.

Cue the ‘Jaws’ Soundtrack, Pelosi Is Hunting for Votes
California Democrat has long displayed a knack for winning tough votes

OPINION — When Nancy Pelosi’s supporters talk about her strengths for the job of speaker, “counting votes” is usually right at the top of the list. But counting hardly describes the process that Pelosi has deployed for the last 16 years as the Democratic leader in the House to pass more landmark pieces of legislation than any other sitting member of Congress.

Part kindly godmother (think baby gifts and handwritten notes), part mentor, part shark, part party boss, Pelosi’s uncanny ability to move legislation may be the most important, yet least discussed, aspect of the Democrats’ internal debate about who should lead them into the future.

Thank you, Dan Crenshaw
Injured Navy SEAL an example of humor, forgiveness and leadership

OPINION — As a political columnist, the hardest part isn’t finding something to write about, it’s narrowing your focus to just one topic. For today’s column, I could have written about the election mess in Florida, President Trump’s non-attendance at a Veterans Day parade in France, the fact that Nancy Pelosi could soon be second-in-line to the presidency (it could happen), or my complaint that 2020 speculation is the new Christmas decorating (too much too soon).

But after I saw Dan Crenshaw on Saturday Night Live, everything else seemed small in comparison. If you don’t know his name, you will. If you don’t know the story, here it is.

What Stacey Abrams Will Tell Us About America Tonight
The results out of Georgia will be a fast and clear grade of the Trump presidency

OPINION — Of all of the races to watch Tuesday night, the Georgia governor’s race may be the most important, both for the history it could make (Democrat Stacey Abrams could become the first black female governor in American history) and for what the results in the quickly changing state could tell us about trends in the rest of the country. It’s not exactly Peoria, but Georgia is increasingly representative of the racial, gender, political and business dynamics driving the country itself.

First and foremost, the results in Georgia will be a fast and clear grade of the Trump presidency — period. The Republican nominee, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, has fashioned himself as Donald Trump in a plaid shirt from the beginning of the cycle. Kemp’s first ad introducing himself to Georgia voters featured a gun, a chainsaw, an explosion and Kemp’s pickup — “just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself. Yep. I just said that!”

Presidents Once Provided Comfort and Leadership in Crises. Now They Tweet and Tongue-Lash
At a time that calls for presidential leadership, it’s nowhere to be found

OPINION — There are times in American history when presidential leadership has made the difference between war and peace, or progress and decline.

Past American presidents have comforted the grieving, steeled the frightened, given courage to the wavering and championed the ideals of equality, liberty, strength and compassion. American presidents’ words across centuries have mattered because American leadership has mattered.

Speaker Pelosi? Maybe. Tea Party Redux? Not if She Can Help It
California Democrat won’t face the same problems Boehner did eight years ago

OPINION — I’m not sure anyone enjoyed John Boehner’s speakership as much as I did covering him and his new majority in 2011 and 2012. What more can you ask for in a storyline than a merlot-loving congressional institutionalist who wins the speaker’s gavel on the wings of a pack of angry rebels?

Fast forward eight years to the Trump-fueled anger on the progressive left, along with projections that Democrats will more than likely win back the House, and you have to wonder if it’s time for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to switch from chocolate to cigarettes to gird herself for life leading a pack of would-be insurrectionists as Boehner had to do in 2011.

Is Beto O’Rourke the Next Jon Ossoff?
Democrats can’t seem to help falling for white, Southern men in unlikely races

OPINION — There have been so many glowing profiles of Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic Senate hopeful in Texas, that there is a running joke  among journalists about the ingredients for a perfect O’Rourke piece. The short version goes something like this: He looks like a Kennedy! He’s got tons of cash! He’s a Democrat in a Red State! Let’s do this thing!

The one detail that’s almost always missing in those profiles is reality — namely, the fact that O’Rourke could run a perfect race against Sen. Ted Cruz and will still probably lose based solely on the fact that far more Republicans are likely to vote in Texas this November than Democrats. Although twice as many Texans (about 1 million) voted in the Democratic primary this year compared to 2014, 1.5 million votes were cast in the Republican primary. Even as the state’s demographics are changing, the math for Texas Democrats still doesn’t look good.

After the Kavanaugh Trauma, the Senate Needs an MRI
Senators, on both sides, must stop assuming the worst of colleagues’ motives

OPINION — The Brett Kavanaugh confirmation saga is over, but the worry I hear most around the Senate is that the damage done to the institution during his nomination battle may be permanent.

How does the institution go on after a mess like that? How do colleagues, especially on the Judiciary Committee, work together after the accusations, attacks and name-calling that went on? How can they fix a Senate that looks so broken right now?

The Senate Already Went Nuclear. This Must Be Nuclear Plus
Mitch McConnell may have said it best: ‘You’ll regret this, and you may regret this a lot sooner than you think’

OPINION — Of all of the questions left unanswered after the Judiciary Committee hearings for Brett Kavanaugh ended last week, the hardest one to know for sure might also be the most important for the long-term health of the country — can the Senate be saved after everything that happened last week?

Can the Senate function again after Sen. Lindsey Graham looked across the hearing room at his Democratic colleagues on Thursday and yelled in rage, “Boy, you all want power. God, I hope you never get it!”

Don’t Call Mazie Hirono a Badass. Call Her a Leader.
Hawaii Democrat is much more than a meme

OPINION — Sen. Mazie Hirono is a badass, in case you haven’t been following the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. 

Also, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is notorious, like a rapper. And when Rep. Maxine Waters reclaimed her time last year, she suddenly became everybody’s favorite feisty aunt who isn’t putting up with your fresh talk anymore.

Kavanaugh’s Fate Lies in Women’s Hands — As It Should Be
Female voters will also be judging how Republicans treat him and his accuser

OPINION — This was the point. This was always the point of the “Year of the Woman,” in 1992 and every election year since then. To have women at the table, to have women as a part of the process in the government we live by every day. Women still aren’t serving in Congress in the numbers they should be, but it is at moments like this one — with a nominee, an accusation, and a Supreme Court seat in the balance — where electing women to office matters.

When Anita Hill told an all-male panel of senators in 1991 that Clarence Thomas had repeatedly sexually harassed her when she had worked with him years before, the senators on the all-male Judiciary Committee seemed to put Hill on trial instead of Thomas. Why didn’t she quit her job and get another one, they asked. Why did she speak to him again? Why didn’t she come forward and say something about Thomas sooner if he was such a flawed nominee?

Congress Handled 9/11 and Anthrax. Now It Brings Catastrophe on Itself
17 years later, lawmakers have brought us to the doorstep of a constitutional crisis

It’s funny how catastrophe can exaggerate the best and worst parts of ourselves.

In the moments after two airplanes hit the World Trade Center in New York, I managed to stay unusually calm at my desk in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. I called my father, found my sister, and returned frantic press calls until the Capitol Police yelled to get out of the building.

Just When You Least Expect It — A Congress That (Sort of) Works
Lawmakers have shown they are getting things done. They mustn’t stop.

OPINION — If you had to use one word to describe the last year in Washington, “stormy” might come to mind, for a whole host reasons. Or “trial.” Or “collusion.” You could also throw in “Twitter,” “tax cuts,” “fake news” and “resist” as the Washington words of the year.

The very last word anyone would use to describe Washington is “functional,” especially if Congress is a part of the conversation. And yet, while the country’s focus has been trained on Paul Manafort’s corruption trial or Omarosa’s secret White House tapes or what the president thinks about all of it, lawmakers have been making slow and steady progress toward their most basic, but often most difficult, job every year — funding the United States government.

What John McCain Didn’t Do
Arizona senator refused to join attacks on Max Cleland and John Kerry

OPINION — When we all look back at the life of Sen. John McCain, it’s easy to focus on all that he did — the sacrifice and victories, the wounds of war and the joy in service. But for me, it was something that McCain chose not to do years ago that I’ll always be grateful for.

It was 2002 and my boss, Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, was in a re-election fight so ugly, many of us on his staff frankly didn’t know how to respond. Would voters really believe that Cleland, a triple amputee from the Vietnam War, was so blindly partisan that he would work against America’s national security and for the Democratic Party instead? That was the accusation against him in the campaign.

Dems Had a Lackluster Showing at the Iowa State Fair. That’s a Bad Sign for 2020
And another thing: Where were the women?

OPINION — As a political reporter, it’s hard not to love the Iowa State Fair, the two-week staging ground for some of the biggest names in American politics to make their case alongside a 600-pound butter cow and an epic hog calling contest. The fair is both a thermometer and a road map that tells you how hot a party or candidate is at any given moment, as well as where they’re likely headed next.

In a midterm election year like 2018, when Democratic energy is palpable and first-time candidates are plentiful, you’d think the parade of high-profile national Democrats showing up to claim their time at the Des Moines Register’s famous Soapbox stage would be long and strong.

7 Ways the Senate Can Spend the Rest of August
A few real problems have bubbled up while senators were away

OPINION — Welcome back to the grind, senators and staff. If you were only watching cable news over your abridged recess, you might have been lulled into the idea that the only messes in Washington you would come back to were Omarosa’s habit of recording conversations in the Situation Room and what we’ve learned so far about Paul Manafort’s choice of outerwear from his trial — ostrich. So gross.

But while some in the D.C. media were caught up in the Trump train wrecks of the day, a few real problems bubbled up while you were gone. Somebody has to deal with them, so as long as you’re here — why not you?

Why Democrats Need the ‘Dannycrats’ in Ohio’s 12th and Beyond
They have a chance to be the “adults in the room” who value diverse views

OPINION — Do you know what a “Dannycrat” is? Spenser Stafford does. That’s because she’s a registered Republican who is planning to vote for Danny O’Connor, the 31-year old Democrat running in Tuesday’s special election in Ohio’s 12th District. Also, she is engaged to marry O’Connor after the election.

“Somebody said, ‘Oh, are you a Democrat now?’” Stafford told CNN. “And I was like, no, I cannot identify as a Democrat. I’m a Dannycrat!”

Change the Rules Already, So We Can Get Back to the Congressional Chicken Caucus
Problem Solvers’ proposal is the best idea to reform Congress in years

OPINION — It’s not often that I hear about a proposal coming out of Congress and think immediately, “Wow — that’s a great idea.” (No offense, Congress.)

But a recent move from Reps. Tom Reed and Josh Gottheimer was one of those moments. The pair is calling for changes to the House rules to incentivize bipartisanship and consensus-building over the gridlock and tribalism that we’ve all seen growing for the last 15 years or so.