The tide is turning in favor of John Boehner on the debt ceiling debate within the GOP. I wrote this morning that perhaps Tea Party Patriots leader Mark Meckler had overplayed his hand, causing him to lose leverage over House Republicans who were suspicious of Boehner’s bill but still want to see the debt ceiling raised. Meckler’s comments this morning made Boehner the only game in town for such congressmen.
Now it seems a second case of overzealous opposition to Boehner has worked in Boehner’s favor. Some Republican Study Committee staffers were caught whipping up opposition to Boehner’s deal among House members, infuriating the GOP caucus. The description of the confrontation inside a party meeting about the incident is jarring. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” one GOP aide told Politico. One congresswoman is contemplating quitting the RSC. Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the RSC, seemed humbled.
The interesting part of this is just how strong Boehner may—I stress may—come out of this. He certainly had the toughest job. He had to negotiate with Obama, Harry Reid, and his own caucus. That meant staving off a Tea Party rebellion and getting Eric Cantor–the Republican with the most to gain if Boehner’s speakership goes down in flames—on board with his plans. On top of everything, Obama was making regular speeches to the American people, a venue and a tactic that were both simply unavailable to Boehner and which gave Obama a built-in advantage over public opinion.
How do you craft a bill in that environment? First by accepting that it will not be perfect. But you also have to give voice to the Tea Party Republicans without letting them take over the negotiations. Boehner did this by happily passing the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” legislation and making sure that, during the process, he was a loud voice of support for the bill.
Once “Cut, Cap, and Balance” died in the Senate, Boehner had room to resume negotiations on his bill with Reid. Sensing the momentum change, Obama pulled Reid from the negotiations and then made a primetime speech blaming the Republicans. Boehner’s next move was shrewd but risky: he asked for some time to respond right after Obama. It was risky because Boehner is not a particularly good speaker, but also because Obama has been unable to move public opinion in support of his initiatives. If Obama wasn’t convincing on TV Monday night, Boehner might turn a win into a loss by also being unconvincing. It would be worse for Boehner, however, because he’d be the last failed pitchman American viewers saw that night.
Boehner wasn’t great, but he was good enough and even landed a couple of decent lines, such as his comment about “The crisis atmosphere that [Obama] has created.” The first sign of victory for Boehner ironically was when the White House threatened to veto his new bill. When Obama promised to veto “Cut, Cap. and Balance,” this was the statement: “If the President were presented this bill for signature, he would veto it.” On Tuesday, here was the White House’s new veto threat: “The Administration strongly opposes House passage of the amendment in the nature of a substitute to S. 627. If S. 627 is presented to the president, the president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto this bill.” Translation: Reid better kill this bill in the Senate, or it’s going to be signed into law.
Then came an even stronger rebellion from Boehner’s right, led by the RSC and a few outside conservative groups. But when you strike the king, as they say, you better kill the king. The RSC didn’t, and I imagine that will be the last attempt they make on Boehner’s speakership in this debate.