Who's Minding the Store in Washington?

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The television images show a Senate tied up in knots over impeachment and a President anchored above the fray trying to address the pressing issues of the day. How much of this imagery actually reflects the reality underneath? "At the White House," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan, "the operative words are 'parallel universes.'" The impeachment trial, says Branegan, "consumes the legal staff full time, but the rest of the White House staff operates, to use their term, in a different universe. The policy people have been urged to keep their nose to the grindstone." The President himself, Branegan reports, has adopted a middle-of-the-road approach: "He is not detached, but neither is he obsessed with the trial," says Branegan. "He does not seek to micromanage the process." He is insistent, however that normal policy meetings proceed as before, and the State of the Union address was perhaps a good example of that insistence. The address, says Branegan, was "full of proposals that bubbled up from his Cabinet officials and their various policy meetings."

Special ReportAt the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, however, the reality of the dithering image remains to be tested. "The dirty little secret," says Branegan, "is that Congress normally does very little work in January. Congress doesn't really roll up its sleeves until the President's budget arrives." The moment of decision for the legislature should now come quickly because that budget is scheduled to land in Congress's lap Monday. How the Senate and the House proceed from there should give the citizenry a much better handle on whether impeachment or policy takes precedence on Capitol Hill.