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Washington's new lows

Washington has never been this bad.

It's a refrain passed through history as successive generations bemoan the spite, division and dysfunction that defines their own political age.
But as Donald Trump's presidency staggers to life, intense discord and fury are battering the capital.
Capitol Hill is still reverberating from its latest political earthquake -- Tuesday night's startling vote by GOP senators to shut down Democrat Elizabeth Warren and prevent her from speaking on the floor for a debate over the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general. In a controversy laced with race and gender, Warren was censured by the GOP majority for reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jr., opposing Sessions' nomination to a federal judgeship three decades ago.
 
The incident became an instant political firestorm in a capital still getting used to Trump's young administration. But more fundamentally, the dispute underscored the profound -- and personal -- anger flowing through Washington in the aftermath of last year's election and reflects a nation torn in half by bitter political divides.
With the Senate poisoned, the House in the grip of a zealous GOP majority and a new president who only knows one political strategy -- all-out personal attack -- there is every reason to think the animosity will continue to boil. Some seasoned Washington observers are starting to believe that for once, Beltway nastiness really has hit a historic nadir.
"It has very seldom been worse," said Steven Smith, a congressional expert who wrote the 2014 book "The Senate Syndrome" about what he considers a period of rising parliamentary warfare in the chamber.
There have, of course, been dark moments in Washington's legislative corridors, including a brutal beating of a Massachusetts senator in the Senate chamber several years before the Civil War after he delivered a blistering attack on slavery.