Jacob Absalon

Army Major Jacob Absalon was honored Friday at the Pentagon for his work establishing a diversity and inclusion minor at the U.S. Military Academy, where he is an academic counselor and instructor. Absalon, a 2003 graduate of Lincoln High School, is shown with his wife, Naomi Absalon.

The World-Herald’s Washington Bureau rounds up news highlights from Capitol Hill and beyond.

Mueller time

Lawmakers returned to town last week after having the opportunity to digest special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election meddling.

And their reactions showed just how much Mueller’s report has become the latest political Rorschach test.

Many Democrats view the 448 pages as a clear and damning account of inappropriate actions by President Donald Trump, with some calling for his impeachment.

From the way his presidential campaign welcomed Russian offers of dirt on Hilary Clinton to the president’s ignored directives to fire Mueller, they say the report paints a picture of a president who has crossed the line repeatedly.

As for most Republicans? Not so much.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., described Mueller’s work as a thorough probe that found no collusion between the campaign and the Russians.

“I’m glad it was put out,” Fischer said of the report. “I’m glad the public has a chance to read it. I think it’s time to move on.”

That was in keeping with other Midlands Republicans, who offered little or no criticism of Trump’s actions that were documented by Mueller.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said that “there were some things that shouldn’t have been done” and that Trump should be more in control of what he says.

But the Omaha-area congressman said the president must have felt under attack for something he didn’t do.

“If you’re being accused falsely, you’re going to respond a certain way,” Bacon said. “In the end, I think the most important thing was there’s no collusion with the Russians.”

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When Attorney General William Barr appeared last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., focused their questions on the need to improve the nation’s cyberdefenses rather than Trump’s behavior.

And Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, talked about the origins of the Mueller probe and investigating leaks to news outlets.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said the report raises a philosophical question of whether someone can obstruct justice when there’s no underlying crime.

“This is a difficult, messy area,” Fortenberry said. “You cannot presume people guilty until proven innocent.”

Pressed on whether he objected to any of the president’s actions detailed in the report, Fortenberry said that he had supported releasing the report and that people can now draw their own conclusions.

“I don’t like mud wrestling and cage fighting,” Fortenberry said. “This is a mud-wrestling, cage-fighting event on Capitol Hill that makes for good drama and good media, but it is exhausting the country.”

Climate change vote

The House voted 231-190 last week to stop President Donald Trump from pulling the U.S. out of the Paris agreement on climate change.

It’s unlikely to go anywhere in the GOP-controlled Senate, but House Democrats wanted to send a message on the issue.

All Republican House members from Nebraska and Iowa voted against the measure, which would require the president to develop a plan for meeting obligations under the agreement and cutting greenhouse gas emissions to well below 2005 levels by 2025.

House Democrats suggested that Republicans are denying the science behind climate change and the need for swift action to address it.

Bacon said he agrees that the U.S. should stay in the agreement but that it should negotiate a deal that would be less burdensome.

He said he voted against the measure because the plan established during the Obama administration is too aggressive given that countries such as China and Russia have more time to act than the U.S.

“All that does is give them the advantage on business,” Bacon said. “It needs to be more equitable.”

Leading a diverse military

Army Maj. Jacob Absalon was honored Friday at the Pentagon with an award for his work establishing a diversity and inclusion minor at the U.S. Military Academy, where he is an academic counselor and instructor.

He is a 2003 graduate of Lincoln High School.

Friends and family traveled to attend last week’s event, including his mother, Jenni Benson, who is president of the Nebraska State Education Association.

The new minor fills a practical need in that newly minted army officers are expected to lead a force that reflects the full range of America.

“The soldiers that are the leaders that we commission out of West Point every year are going to be leading the most diverse Army we’ve ever had across dominant social characteristics like race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion — and understanding those is really important,” Absalon told The World-Herald. “As our nation, as our Army, continues to diversify, it’s really important to have leaders that understand those differences and can maximize the effectiveness of their teams.”

Reporter - Politics/Washington D.C.

Joseph Morton is The World-Herald Washington Bureau Chief. Morton joined The World-Herald in 1999 and has been reporting from Washington for the newspaper since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @MortonOWH. Email:joseph.morton@owh.com

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