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In our opinion: Mueller's testimony highlights Congress' dysfunction

In a former era, former special counsel Robert Mueller would have been a shining example of civic duty. His fair, thorough report on the technological ambush from a foreign power and alleged claims of obstruction would have been consumed with an anxious commitment for improvement. He would have spent seven hours of congressional testimony, not crafting unsure and halting answers, but guiding lawmakers through the vulnerabilities of the country’s electoral system.

Instead, Mueller is a fallen hero of both the left and the right. But it’s not his fault; he only became the manufactured savior he was because Congress was in no fit state to deal with the real issues.

Congress has the power to shore up election systems and funnel money to agencies dealing with national security. It also has the power to control spending, fix immigration laws and lower health care costs, but it is doing none of that, instead succumbing to distraction after distraction. It’s exhausting for the public to watch, and it’s but one among many reasons Americans have falling levels of trust in their government.

Last week, Pew Research Center released the results of a seven-month project on the role of trust in the country, and its findings tell a sad tale. Of those surveyed, 75% say American trust in the federal government is shrinking, and 64% say that makes it harder to solve problems.

While we’re optimistic America is less divided and polarized than it thinks, watching a broken Congress is as disheartening as it is unproductive for the country.

During congressional hearings on Wednesday, lawmakers on both the House Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committee — many of whom are lawyers and ought to know how to question a witness — spent more time angling for social media sound bites than grilling Mueller for details of an American democracy under siege. As The Atlantic’s Russell Berman noted, committee members chose “to punctuate their limited question time with the pontificating of a politician rather than the pointed, well-crafted queries of a prosecutor.”

The next day, three House Democrat-backed election security bills stalled in the Senate after failing to get unanimous consent. Securing U.S. elections should be a bipartisan affair, and legislation to that end should allow for debate and amendments. Such an ordinary request, however, sounds like a tall order in today’s Congress.

That same day, the House passed a two-year spending deal that all but eliminates the borrowing limit and is sure to expand federal deficits. It guts what was left of the 2011 Budget Control Act and helps pave the road toward an even greater national debt crisis. Although more than 100 Republicans opposed the bill, it’s the outcome of a deal brokered by President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

This is not what Americans want, so why does it continue? Most likely because Congress peddles the idea that governing is complicated and too difficult for the American people to understand. It perpetuates the notion that citizens should settle. "We're too divided, so this is all you get," lawmakers seem say.

We agree governing can be difficult, but the process isn’t too complicated for a fifth grader to understand. Americans should never settle, and neither should their elected officials.