WASHINGTON — The first day of school in democracy's citadel brought an arresting sight outside the fine office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the Capitol. Take it as a sign, on 9/9/19, that business as usual is over in Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stood on McConnell's marble real estate and took questions on impeachment from reporters. She who cautiously protected the president from impeachment is now letting a new word go forth.
Donald Trump is now at the mercy of a fresh House Judiciary Committee probe run along Watergate lines. The Mueller report is not the bar anymore. It's all fair game.
This triad is the tangled triangle that controls everything — the House, the Senate and the volatile presidency. (The 5-4 Supreme Court controls everything else.)
The gentle lady from California, in House parlance, came back from a dark summer fighting mad. She's crossed a threshold with McConnell and Trump, the most ruthless pair of political enemies a speaker has ever faced.
First on the speaker's list is a Senate vote on a Background Checks Act to curb mass shootings like those over the August recess, in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. Her House majority passed the bill in February, but McConnell flatly refused to allow a Senate vote on the measure.
So it dangles in the wind as blood spills every day.
Pelosi called out McConnell as the "Grim Reaper" on the first day back, a nickname he likes. She was flanked by Nan Whaley, the Democratic mayor of Dayton; Congresswoman Veronica Escobar from El Paso; Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; and others. Whaley was snubbed by the White House, excluded from a ceremony for her city's first responders.
"We're not taking no for an answer," Pelosi declared, demanding a clean background-check bill.
But the "People's House" is up against the old Senate "Plantation," expert at thwarting the popular will since the bad old days. The Senate cravenly protected slavery as long as it possibly could, just as it gives cover and comfort to the gun lobby.
Who cares what 9 out of 10 Americans feel about checking the epidemic of gun violence? Mayors and House members do most of all, but the Republican Senate, not so much.
You think this is democracy under the dome. But the Senate works in mysterious ways. McConnell is a Southerner, as is much of his caucus, and master of the Senate.
McConnell prides himself on blocking almost every vote except those stocking the federal judiciary like a fishpond with young right-wing judges.
Slyly, knowing the president is owned lock, stock and barrel by the National Rifle Association, the Kentuckian says he'll bring up the background-checks bill if Trump says he'll sign it.
Pelosi seized the moment, but she also seized space symbolically. The elegant California Democrat, clad in white, rarely crosses the Rotunda over to the Senate side. The two chambers are like strange places to each other.
Just as timing is so important in politics, comedy, love and life, so is choosing the right place to send a message.
Our government is frozen in crisis, much like the British parliament, but missing the theatrics. Across the Atlantic, Great Britain — the mother country of democracy — is not convulsed by gun violence, either. That is the new American "peculiar institution," as slavery was once.
McConnell emerged from his office, literally walking wounded with a shoulder brace. No, he did not see Pelosi on his way to the Senate floor, walking and wearing a grin. He later denounced Pelosi's "stunt." It was "theatrics."
Speaking of theatrics, the Folger Shakespeare Library is staging a mesmerizing "Henry IV, Part 1" production, blocks from the Capitol. Shakespeare's history plays have never felt less like history.
Just imagine the rebels waging civil war are Trump and McConnell. Here's the Bard in the end: "Rebellion in this grand land shall lose his sway, Meeting the check of such another day:/ And since this business so fair is done,/ Let us not leave till all our own be won."
Pelosi best not leave her place till the gun battle's done.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the website creators.com.