Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Boehner

An Academic’s Admirable Intellectual Independence

I wanted to alert people to recent congressional testimony by George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley. The subject was the lawsuit by Speaker John Boehner to check President Obama’s repeated violations of the separation of powers. “The president’s pledge to effectively govern alone is alarming,” according to Turley, “and what is most alarming is his ability to fulfill that pledge.”

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I wanted to alert people to recent congressional testimony by George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley. The subject was the lawsuit by Speaker John Boehner to check President Obama’s repeated violations of the separation of powers. “The president’s pledge to effectively govern alone is alarming,” according to Turley, “and what is most alarming is his ability to fulfill that pledge.”

I want to focus on Professor Turley’s testimony for two reasons. The first has to do with the merits of his argument, which he believes reflects the vision of the founders. The push-and-pull between Congress and the presidency goes back to the very beginning of the republic, but according to Turley we have reached a “tipping point.” Even if one doesn’t fully agree with him, Turley’s case is worth considering, particularly given how well-stated it is.

The second reason I wanted to highlight what Professor Turley said is because he demonstrates impressive intellectual independence. In the course of his testimony, Professor Turley says quite forthrightly that he voted for Barack Obama in the past and he’s sympathetic to what the president is trying to achieve with the Affordable Care Act. Which is to say, Turley is a political liberal.

No matter. The George Washington University law professor is able to separate his political leanings from his analysis of the situation. He is able to argue “against interest.” His principles have deeper roots than his political/partisan views.

Professor Turley is obviously a serious-minded scholar; he’s also a civilized, irenic one. We all struggle with “confirmation bias” and “motivated reasoning”; with keeping our political biases from clouding our intellectual judgments. These days that’s truer of academics, I imagine, than most others. Which is why Jonathan Turley’s example is an estimable one. Watch his testimony and see if you agree.

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The President Versus the Constitution

Conflicts between the legislative and executive branches are as old as the republic. But in recent years, the growing power of the presidency has added new urgency to these issues. That’s the context of the decision of House Speaker John Boehner to sue the president for overstepping his authority. It’s also the backdrop to the interesting constitutional arguments in play in today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the president’s power to make recess appointments.

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Conflicts between the legislative and executive branches are as old as the republic. But in recent years, the growing power of the presidency has added new urgency to these issues. That’s the context of the decision of House Speaker John Boehner to sue the president for overstepping his authority. It’s also the backdrop to the interesting constitutional arguments in play in today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the president’s power to make recess appointments.

Democrats may have a point when they claim Boehner’s lawsuit is more of a stunt than a policy initiative. It is doubtful that the courts will force the president’s hand when it comes to bypassing Congress on immigration by selective enforcement of laws or by the use of executive orders when the House and the Senate fail to pass the legislation he wants. Even if the case does go forward, the odds are it will not be resolved until after President Obama leaves office in January 2017.

But Boehner is right to stand up for the Constitution and a system of checks and balances and against Obama’s notions of an imperial presidency that increasingly seem aimed at allowing him to govern alone without Congress.

Thus, the Supreme Court’s willingness in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning to put some limits on the president’s power to make recess appointments is an encouraging sign that the march to one-person rule can be checked if not altogether halted.

As our John Steele Gordon noted earlier, the practice of allowing recess appointments, including those for vacancies that arise while Congress is in session, is not authorized by the Constitution but has become routine in the last century. While properly ruling that President Obama’s appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were illegal, the majority of the court sought to curb what it believes to be an excessive use of the practice. The decision held that congressional breaks of less than 10 days could not be interpreted as being sufficient to justify the president invoking his recess appointment power. That’s reasonable, but as Justice Antonin Scalia noted in his concurring opinion, by also saying that such appointments would be legal even if they came in the middle of an existing session, the court has read the law in such a way as to still leave the president far too much leeway to abuse the Constitution. The Constitution only authorizes the executive to make such an appointment when a vacancy comes up during an actual recess, not every such opening including ones that date back to times when Congress is in session.

As Scalia writes:

The notion that the Constitution empowers the President to make unilateral appointments every time the Senate takes a half-hour lunch break is so absurd as to be self-refuting. But that, in the majority’s view, is what the text authorizes.

Though he concurred with the majority that the NLRB appointments were illegal, Scalia rightly points out that such unilateral actions by the president could only be approved under extraordinary circumstances. But no such circumstances applied to this case or, for that matter, just about any other recess appointment made by any president in recent decades.

It should be remembered that the concept of recess appointments stems from the political realities of government in pre-20th century America. With a few exceptions during periods of national emergency, prior to the Great Depression Congress met for only a few months every year. Recesses then were not matters of a few days or weeks but several months. Even when a special session of Congress was called, travel in the horse-and-buggy era meant that it was simply impossible for the legislative branch to assemble quickly. Vacancies that arose during this period could, if forced to wait for the Senate to exercise its right to advise and consent to appointments, mean the government simply couldn’t function.

The old schedule in which a newly elected Congress would not meet until the December of the following year and new presidents not be inaugurated until the middle of March is consigned to the dustbin of history. But so, too, should the practice of allowing the president to simply use brief breaks in what is, for all intents and purposes, a nearly continuous congressional session to make appointments that the Senate has already effectively rejected.

Under the ruling in today’s case, so long as either congressional body is in the hands of the party not in control of the White House, recess appointments may be impossible since pro forma sessions will prevent the president from arguing, as Obama did, that the legislature really is not meeting. But, as John Steel Gordon points out, the president will still have a loophole that would allow him to effectively prorogue Congress like an 17th century English monarch.

All this points out the necessity for those who care about the Constitution—be they Republicans or Democrats—to stand up against a lawless presidency intent on one-person rule. Though Democrats may think they will hold the White House for the foreseeable future, they must consider that three years from now they may be faced with a Republican president. That president will, like all of his or her predecessors including Obama, probably suddenly find themselves in love with the idea of an imperial presidency that they disdained when someone of the other party was in power.

If this trend is allowed to continue unchecked and Obama’s predecessors are allowed to build on his precedent, then there is no telling how long the Constitution, as we know it, will survive. Presidents who enforce only the laws they like and use executive orders to make laws or make appointments the Congress has already rejected are little different from kings and queens.

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Suing the President

Speaker of the House John Boehner has announced that he will ask the House to sue the president. “My view is the president has not faithfully executed the laws,” he said. “What we have seen clearly over the last five years is an effort to erode the power of the Legislative Branch.”

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Speaker of the House John Boehner has announced that he will ask the House to sue the president. “My view is the president has not faithfully executed the laws,” he said. “What we have seen clearly over the last five years is an effort to erode the power of the Legislative Branch.”

What Boehner is referring to is such presidential actions as unilaterally rewriting large sections of the Affordable Care Act, and ordering the Immigration service to not enforce the portions of immigration law that would have been repealed had Congress passed the “Dream Act,” which it did not. All presidents, other than, perhaps, James Madison, sought to extend their powers, but President Obama has been far more aggressive than most.

But it is difficult to rein in a president through legal action, as no one, including individual members of Congress, has standing to sue to get the courts to require the president to faithfully execute the laws as Congress passed them. As far as I know, neither Congress nor either of its houses has ever sued the president as a body. But that is what Boehner is now proposing. It will be interesting to see how far it gets as the courts have always been notably reluctant to decide a “political question.”

But as George Will writes, “Congress cannot reverse egregious executive aggressions such as Obama’s without robust judicial assistance.” Without it, Congress’s only weapon to protect its constitutional powers is the thermonuclear one of impeachment. He writes,

David Rivkin, a Washington lawyer, and Elizabeth Price Foley of Florida International University have studied the case law and believe that standing can be obtained conditional on four things:

That a majority of one congressional chamber explicitly authorizes a lawsuit. That the lawsuit concern the president’s “benevolent” suspension of an unambiguous provision of law that, by pleasing a private faction, precludes the appearance of a private plaintiff. That Congress cannot administer political self-help by remedying the presidential action by simply repealing the law. And that the injury amounts to nullification of Congress’s power.

But Lyle Denniston of the National Constitution Center has his doubts the courts will get involved:

The courts can be jealous guardians of their notion of what the Constitution allows, or does not allow, in terms of judicial review. The resistance to resolving political disputes is quite deeply set.  One might suggest that it would take an inter-branch controversy of monumental proportions to cause them to give up that reluctance. Is the feud over President Obama’s use of his White House powers of that dimension? That may well be debatable.

This should be interesting.

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Mr. Boehner’s Critics

As explained by both Jonathan and our former COMMENTARY colleague Jennifer Rubin, Speaker John Boehner, for entirely understandable reasons–he held no cards–declared he would allow a vote on raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached. (It passed 221-201.)  Predictably, some conservative groups blasted Mr. Boehner for capitulation and for being unprincipled. 

“Leadership needs to go – they need to be completely changed,” Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, said. “They have no spine to fight for anything.” She added that her group would focus on making sure GOP leaders are defeated in the 2014 elections, and she’s not alone. The Senate Conservatives Fund is demanding he be replaced. So are other groups.

So some of the same people who recommended the GOP embrace the strategy that produced the government shutdown were insisting that House Republicans should have forced a showdown on raising the debt ceiling. One political disaster in a half year apparently isn’t enough. Why not two?

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As explained by both Jonathan and our former COMMENTARY colleague Jennifer Rubin, Speaker John Boehner, for entirely understandable reasons–he held no cards–declared he would allow a vote on raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached. (It passed 221-201.)  Predictably, some conservative groups blasted Mr. Boehner for capitulation and for being unprincipled. 

“Leadership needs to go – they need to be completely changed,” Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, said. “They have no spine to fight for anything.” She added that her group would focus on making sure GOP leaders are defeated in the 2014 elections, and she’s not alone. The Senate Conservatives Fund is demanding he be replaced. So are other groups.

So some of the same people who recommended the GOP embrace the strategy that produced the government shutdown were insisting that House Republicans should have forced a showdown on raising the debt ceiling. One political disaster in a half year apparently isn’t enough. Why not two?

It is a curious thing, those who insist on fighting losing battles, on large stages, based on wholly unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved. For some politicians seeking to curry favor with some part of the GOP base, the motivations may be ambition and self-interest. But there are others who seem to believe going down in flames is a high calling and a purifying ritual. Every tactical difference is framed as an apocalyptic struggle. The choice is liberty or tyranny. You’re a “constitutional conservative” or a statist. It’s the American Revolution all over again. You, too, can be Patrick Henry.

Now John Boehner is hardly an inspiring, let alone a perfect, political figure. He hardly sets conservative hearts aflutter. If there are those on the right who think another person should be speaker of the House, fine; they’re free to make their case and coalesce behind a challenger. But this should be said as well: Mr. Boehner’s job is more challenging than fulminating from deep in the bowels of a hidden bunker for three hours every weeknight. And whatever his limitations, Mr. Boehner has the virtue of being a serious adult who isn’t intemperate, who’s not in a constant state of agitation, and who hasn’t lost touch with political reality. Which is more than can be said about some of his critics.

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Republicans Dodge Debt Ceiling Disaster

When House Speaker John Boehner told a shocked Republican caucus this morning that he would allow a vote on raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached, it was seen in some quarters as a defeat for the GOP. And, in many ways, it was. A clean debt-ceiling resolution gives President Obama exactly what he wants and signals that there will be no attempt in 2014 by either political party to rein in the deluge of federal spending that feeds a national debt that keeps going up with no limit in sight. It also demonstrates that Boehner has failed yet again to get even a majority of his Republican members, let alone of the entire House, to vote for a bill that would link an increase in the debt ceiling with even modest measures aimed at trimming spending. Boehner was not even capable of passing a bill tied to a popular measure such as reversing cuts in veteran benefits. Most of the GOP caucus seems only interested in another apocalyptic fight to drastically cut spending and refuses to vote for any of Boehner’s compromises, leaving him no choice but to let the debt ceiling go through without strings and relying on the votes of Democrats.

Boehner expressed grave disappointment over his inability to speak for his caucus or to lead them to support a sensible approach to the issue as well as the futility of his efforts to chip away at the debt. Those are troubling developments, both for the speaker and the GOP. But rather than mourning Boehner’s decision, Republicans should be celebrating. A partisan confrontation over the debt ceiling—even one in which Republicans tie support for the increase to sensible spending cuts or a popular measure aimed at helping veterans—would have turned into a repeat of last fall’s political melodrama that ended so badly for the GOP.

The fact that a majority of the House GOP was too stubborn to back the speaker’s efforts to use the debt ceiling in an attempt to push for less spending may have granted the president what he wanted. But Boehner’s waving of the white flag on the debt ceiling also denies the Democrats the only issue that might have helped them win the 2014 midterm elections: a repeat of the GOP’s disastrous government shutdown. Today’s outcome allows Republicans to spend the upcoming months concentrating their fire on the president’s failed policies and the ObamaCare fiasco that threatens to drown the Democrats in a sea of lost insurance coverage, lost jobs, and a stalled economy rather than in defending another suicidal stand that would accomplish nothing but to strengthen their liberal opponents.

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When House Speaker John Boehner told a shocked Republican caucus this morning that he would allow a vote on raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached, it was seen in some quarters as a defeat for the GOP. And, in many ways, it was. A clean debt-ceiling resolution gives President Obama exactly what he wants and signals that there will be no attempt in 2014 by either political party to rein in the deluge of federal spending that feeds a national debt that keeps going up with no limit in sight. It also demonstrates that Boehner has failed yet again to get even a majority of his Republican members, let alone of the entire House, to vote for a bill that would link an increase in the debt ceiling with even modest measures aimed at trimming spending. Boehner was not even capable of passing a bill tied to a popular measure such as reversing cuts in veteran benefits. Most of the GOP caucus seems only interested in another apocalyptic fight to drastically cut spending and refuses to vote for any of Boehner’s compromises, leaving him no choice but to let the debt ceiling go through without strings and relying on the votes of Democrats.

Boehner expressed grave disappointment over his inability to speak for his caucus or to lead them to support a sensible approach to the issue as well as the futility of his efforts to chip away at the debt. Those are troubling developments, both for the speaker and the GOP. But rather than mourning Boehner’s decision, Republicans should be celebrating. A partisan confrontation over the debt ceiling—even one in which Republicans tie support for the increase to sensible spending cuts or a popular measure aimed at helping veterans—would have turned into a repeat of last fall’s political melodrama that ended so badly for the GOP.

The fact that a majority of the House GOP was too stubborn to back the speaker’s efforts to use the debt ceiling in an attempt to push for less spending may have granted the president what he wanted. But Boehner’s waving of the white flag on the debt ceiling also denies the Democrats the only issue that might have helped them win the 2014 midterm elections: a repeat of the GOP’s disastrous government shutdown. Today’s outcome allows Republicans to spend the upcoming months concentrating their fire on the president’s failed policies and the ObamaCare fiasco that threatens to drown the Democrats in a sea of lost insurance coverage, lost jobs, and a stalled economy rather than in defending another suicidal stand that would accomplish nothing but to strengthen their liberal opponents.

Much as he did before to the shutdown fight, Boehner tried to enlist conservative House members in an approach to the debt ceiling rooted in Tea Party’s concern over more spending, but would have sought to conduct the fight from the high ground of a popular position. But any reluctance to pay for the debt and to allow it to continue to increase—no matter how reasonable the strings that would have been attached to a GOP plan—was a political loser. Americans don’t like debt or big government spending in principle, but they also know that any attempt to bring a halt to the spending binge in a partisan manner could do real damage to the country’s credit rating and ultimately the economy as a whole.

Just as they did during the shutdown battle, Democrats deserve a lot of the blame for the failure to act on the debt. Their refusal to negotiate in good faith on either ObamaCare or spending caused the shutdown as much as the kamikaze instincts of Tea Party Republicans. But shutting down the government, even over ObamaCare funding, was deeply unpopular. The same applies to debt ceiling negotiations in which Democrats have also refused to deal fairly or address the country’s long-term problems.

It may be unfair that the GOP is blamed more than the Democrats for shutdowns or debt fights, but that is irrelevant to a political reality in which liberal domination of the mainstream media creates a distorted playing field. If Republicans want to win elections, they have to stay away from situations in which the media can brand them as irrational extremists, which is exactly what happened with the shutdown. As bad as things look for Boehner and his dysfunctional crew today, avoiding a debt-ceiling showdown denies the president and his party another chance to portray Republicans as irresponsible obstructionists who can’t be trusted with the serious task of governing.

Letting Democrats pass the debt increase is a bitter pill for Boehner and the GOP to swallow. But by doing it, they have also set the stage for a 2014 campaign that can be fought on their terms rather than those of the Democrats. That gives them a good chance not only to win back control of the Senate but to gain House seats and set themselves up for a 2015 session in which the party can not only begin to reverse the damage Obama has done but also set the stage for a return to the White House in 2016. All that was made possible by Boehner’s surrender. Given the stakes involved, that’s the sort of exchange that conservatives should like.

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Schumer Outsmarts the GOP Again

Chuck Schumer is at it again. The wily New York Democrat put together an impressive bipartisan coalition last year to push an immigration reform bill through the Senate. Schumer succeeded because he not only enlisted Republicans who agreed that fixing the broken system was long overdue but because he listened to their concerns and designed legislation that made border security a priority alongside concerns Democrats cared about, such as providing a path to legalization and citizenship for the 11 million illegal aliens currently in the country. However, the Senate bill has stalled in the House and last week House Speaker John Boehner said even the approach to immigration favored by some Republicans in which the border security measures would be passed separately was also not viable. But Schumer isn’t giving up. And in a last, probably vain effort to save immigration reform in this Congress, he is again listening to what Republicans are saying.

When Boehner dismissed the possibility of passing an immigration bill of any kind last week, he explained that Republicans simply do not trust President Obama to enforce the laws of the land with regard to border security. After Obama announced in his State of the Union that he would attempt, wherever possible, to govern without the consent of Congress via executive orders, conservatives who were never very enthusiastic about dealing with immigration in the first place saw an excuse to oppose any effort, even one favored by Boehner and most of the GOP leadership. Worried that rebellious Tea Partiers might threaten his speakership as well as by the possibility that the issue would divert Republicans and the voters from the Democrats’ ObamaCare woes, Boehner waved the white flag on immigration reform.

In response to this, Schumer said yesterday that he would agree to an immigration bill that wouldn’t go into effect until 2017. In doing so, he’s calling the Republicans’ bluff. Since President Obama would not have the opportunity to gum up the works on border security after he left office, Schumer has answered what we were told was the chief Republican concern about addressing immigration this year.

Will it succeed? Of course not! Obama’s lawless approach to governance is a legitimate issue. But by giving in to Republicans on this point and putting off implementation of the law until after Obama leaves the White House, all Schumer has done is to expose something that was already obvious: Republicans won’t vote for an immigration reform bill under virtually any circumstances.

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Chuck Schumer is at it again. The wily New York Democrat put together an impressive bipartisan coalition last year to push an immigration reform bill through the Senate. Schumer succeeded because he not only enlisted Republicans who agreed that fixing the broken system was long overdue but because he listened to their concerns and designed legislation that made border security a priority alongside concerns Democrats cared about, such as providing a path to legalization and citizenship for the 11 million illegal aliens currently in the country. However, the Senate bill has stalled in the House and last week House Speaker John Boehner said even the approach to immigration favored by some Republicans in which the border security measures would be passed separately was also not viable. But Schumer isn’t giving up. And in a last, probably vain effort to save immigration reform in this Congress, he is again listening to what Republicans are saying.

When Boehner dismissed the possibility of passing an immigration bill of any kind last week, he explained that Republicans simply do not trust President Obama to enforce the laws of the land with regard to border security. After Obama announced in his State of the Union that he would attempt, wherever possible, to govern without the consent of Congress via executive orders, conservatives who were never very enthusiastic about dealing with immigration in the first place saw an excuse to oppose any effort, even one favored by Boehner and most of the GOP leadership. Worried that rebellious Tea Partiers might threaten his speakership as well as by the possibility that the issue would divert Republicans and the voters from the Democrats’ ObamaCare woes, Boehner waved the white flag on immigration reform.

In response to this, Schumer said yesterday that he would agree to an immigration bill that wouldn’t go into effect until 2017. In doing so, he’s calling the Republicans’ bluff. Since President Obama would not have the opportunity to gum up the works on border security after he left office, Schumer has answered what we were told was the chief Republican concern about addressing immigration this year.

Will it succeed? Of course not! Obama’s lawless approach to governance is a legitimate issue. But by giving in to Republicans on this point and putting off implementation of the law until after Obama leaves the White House, all Schumer has done is to expose something that was already obvious: Republicans won’t vote for an immigration reform bill under virtually any circumstances.

Many on the right think what happened in the Senate on immigration last year that the clever Schumer hoodwinked Senate Republicans like Marco Rubio. The conservative distrust of Schumer is so intense that they think any accommodation on his part is all part of a dastardly scheme concocted to embarrass the GOP and/or to further the liberal agenda. But the history of this legislation proves that Schumer’s genius is not so much a matter of his outfoxing the Republicans as it is a matter of his concessions successfully illustrating the intransigence of some conservatives on this issue.

What Schumer has done on immigration is to transform the liberal position from one in which Democrats demanded a bill that was solely focused on easing entry in the country and a path to citizenship for illegals into one that poured massive resources into border security and charted a path to legalization for scofflaws that was both lengthy and draconian. In the last month as House Republicans began talking about a package that would separate the these two elements, Schumer and the White House backed down on the citizenship track and indicated they would settle for legalization. Now he has further sweetened the pot for Republicans by removing Obama and his cherry-picking approach to law enforcement out of the question entirely.

But House Republicans are running away from Schumer’s suggestion as fast as they are from the bipartisan Senate bill he sent them. Though what he has done used to be considered normative behavior in a previous era when it was accepted that compromise was necessary to pass a bill, many in the GOP view his concessions as a plot. Speaker Boehner’s office dismissed the idea as “impractical,” saying the delay would give the president no incentive to enforce the laws in his last three years in office. Though some Republicans are open to the proposal, it’s more than obvious that the GOP would rather have its talking point about Obama’s lawlessness exposed as a mere excuse rather than budge on its refusal to address the issue this year.

This is, as I wrote last week, a mistake. Republicans who think they can continue to further alienate Hispanic voters while also convincing many non-Hispanics that they are succumbing to prejudice without long-term damage to their electoral prospects are engaging in self-deception. While allowing a House debate and a vote would give greater prominence to the “worst and most irresponsible voices on immigration” that Pete Wehner mentioned in his piece on the issue, what Boehner has done is to give those very same people an effective veto on the legislation. Having given those who are mesmerized by the word “amnesty” the whip hand over the GOP in 2014, does anyone really think it will be easier to enact any kind of fix to a broken immigration system in 2014 even if Republicans win control of both the House and the Senate in November? While liberal Hispanics can’t be converted to the GOP by only one bill, the Republican failure to address reform cannot but result in anything but their writing off an increasingly important segment of the electorate for the foreseeable future.

Schumer may be a clever politician, but if he succeeds in embarrassing the GOP, it is those conservatives who are thwarting immigration reform who deserve the credit. Schumer’s latest compromise has resulted in yet another unforced error on the part of the Republican leadership. Immigration reform remains good public policy as well as good politics for the GOP. If it loses another presidential election by ignoring or insulting Hispanics the way it did in 2012, those who are applauding or condoning Boehner’s decision will have cause to look back on this episode with regret. 

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Republicans Wise to Punt on Immigration Reform

I’m favorably disposed to the immigration reforms outlined by House Republicans like Paul Ryan–and yet I’m very glad that Speaker John Boehner has indicated (presumably with the support of Ryan) that an immigration bill will not pass in 2014.

The politics are such that pushing immigration in the current environment would only (badly) divide Republicans and unify Democrats. Among other things, my guess is that the debate would end up highlighting some of the worst and most irresponsible voices on immigration. (See the criticisms of the Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad as a preview of coming attractions. Speaking of which, Jon Stewart’s segment on critics of the ad is worth watching.)

It’s fitting, too, that President Obama is paying the price for his promiscuous lawlessness. Republicans simply don’t trust Mr. Obama to enforce those aspects of the law he disagrees with–and they are right not to trust him. I rather like the idea of the GOP saying no to this Imperial President.

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I’m favorably disposed to the immigration reforms outlined by House Republicans like Paul Ryan–and yet I’m very glad that Speaker John Boehner has indicated (presumably with the support of Ryan) that an immigration bill will not pass in 2014.

The politics are such that pushing immigration in the current environment would only (badly) divide Republicans and unify Democrats. Among other things, my guess is that the debate would end up highlighting some of the worst and most irresponsible voices on immigration. (See the criticisms of the Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad as a preview of coming attractions. Speaking of which, Jon Stewart’s segment on critics of the ad is worth watching.)

It’s fitting, too, that President Obama is paying the price for his promiscuous lawlessness. Republicans simply don’t trust Mr. Obama to enforce those aspects of the law he disagrees with–and they are right not to trust him. I rather like the idea of the GOP saying no to this Imperial President.

If immigration reform eventually is embraced by the GOP, it’ll probably take a presidential nominee who ran on the issue and won the primary contest to make it happen. Until then, the GOP is taking a wise and prudent course of action. Focus on the president’s failed agenda, on the weak economy and on the multiplying failures of the Affordable Care Act, and on other elements of its governing agenda–including policies dealing with poverty, health care and higher education, and social mobility. The result may be maintaining control of the House, winning control of the Senate, and another blow that badly weakens the Obama presidency.

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The GOP’s Immigration Dilemma

It is possible that House Speaker John Boehner’s comments yesterday casting doubt that immigration reform legislation can be passed this year isn’t the final word on the subject. Boehner wants to tackle the issue and knows it’s in the best interests of the Republican Party that the GOP not be seen as the sole obstacle to fixing a broken system. But he also knows that a majority of the House Republican caucus as well as much of the conservative grassroots activists that provide the ground troops in campaigns want no part of a bill that would provide “amnesty” to illegals or, for that matter, anything that smacks of compromise with President Obama and the Democrats. So just a week after the House leadership issued a set of principles on immigration that seemed to hold out the promise of a compromise with the White House—especially after the president expressed his willingness to accept a bill that did not include a direct path to citizenship for illegals—Boehner’s comments were an acknowledgement that the bulk of his party simply won’t tolerate any immigration bill at all.

This pleases conservatives who feared an intra-party battle over immigration would derail what appeared to be an excellent chance of victory in the midterm elections this November. They argued the debate over immigration would distract voters from ObamaCare and supress GOP turnout. Since Republicans have good reason to believe that the president won’t enforce the border security parts of any new package, there seemed no reason for Boehner to risk his party’s unity—and his Speakership—to take up this hot potato.

But assuming that this is the final word on the subject in 2014 and not just Boehner’s feint to the right before addressing the issue later this year–as immigration reform advocates still hope–this decision is nothing for Republicans to celebrate. Even if we accept the premise that a debate on immigration would harm the GOP’s chances to take back the Senate this fall, a Republican decision to obstruct reform is a terrible mistake that will cause more damage to the party in the long run than an internecine battle over the issue would do this year.

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It is possible that House Speaker John Boehner’s comments yesterday casting doubt that immigration reform legislation can be passed this year isn’t the final word on the subject. Boehner wants to tackle the issue and knows it’s in the best interests of the Republican Party that the GOP not be seen as the sole obstacle to fixing a broken system. But he also knows that a majority of the House Republican caucus as well as much of the conservative grassroots activists that provide the ground troops in campaigns want no part of a bill that would provide “amnesty” to illegals or, for that matter, anything that smacks of compromise with President Obama and the Democrats. So just a week after the House leadership issued a set of principles on immigration that seemed to hold out the promise of a compromise with the White House—especially after the president expressed his willingness to accept a bill that did not include a direct path to citizenship for illegals—Boehner’s comments were an acknowledgement that the bulk of his party simply won’t tolerate any immigration bill at all.

This pleases conservatives who feared an intra-party battle over immigration would derail what appeared to be an excellent chance of victory in the midterm elections this November. They argued the debate over immigration would distract voters from ObamaCare and supress GOP turnout. Since Republicans have good reason to believe that the president won’t enforce the border security parts of any new package, there seemed no reason for Boehner to risk his party’s unity—and his Speakership—to take up this hot potato.

But assuming that this is the final word on the subject in 2014 and not just Boehner’s feint to the right before addressing the issue later this year–as immigration reform advocates still hope–this decision is nothing for Republicans to celebrate. Even if we accept the premise that a debate on immigration would harm the GOP’s chances to take back the Senate this fall, a Republican decision to obstruct reform is a terrible mistake that will cause more damage to the party in the long run than an internecine battle over the issue would do this year.

As our Peter Wehner detailed in a sobering post yesterday, the Republican Party has a demographic problem that can’t be ignored or wished away. With minorities making up an increasingly large percentage of the American population, the GOP’s chances of winning back the presidency in 2016 or in subsequent elections hinge on its ability to appeal to non-whites and specifically the growing Hispanic population. While many conservatives are right to argue that passing immigration reform isn’t a magic bullet that will persuade predominantly liberal Hispanic voters to embrace the Republicans, it must be understood that as long as the party is viewed as implacably hostile to the interests of Hispanics, its chances of making even minor inroads in that group are minimal. As the numbers that Pete discussed illustrate, a failure to change this electoral equation seals the fate of the GOP in presidential politics for the foreseeable future.

But the damage isn’t limited to the resentment Hispanics feel about a party dominated by those who seem intent on clinging to the fantasy of deporting 11 million people. The implacable resistance to “amnesty” on the part of some conservatives seems rooted as much in hostility to growing ethnic diversity as it is to a reluctance to acknowledge that the illegals already here must be given a chance to get right with the law. That image hurts Republicans with more than just Hispanics. With some on the right saying they oppose immigration because they wish to prevent more Hispanics from becoming voters, this less attractive aspect of the immigration debate can’t be ignored. Republican leaders must confront and reject such views and the only effective way to do it is to pass a reform bill now and put this issue in their rear-view mirror.

Nor can we assume that reform can be put off until next January, when the GOP hopes it will control both houses of Congress. Even if Republicans are in charge of the Senate as well as the House next year, the same dynamic that pits conservative/Tea Party rebels against the so-called establishment will still be in play. If anything, the Republican caucus will be even less likely to listen to reason on immigration in 2015 than it is in 2014. Due to gerrymandering and the growing division between the parties, GOP representatives have grown more conservative in each new Congress. This year won’t reverse that trend. Thus, it will be even harder for Boehner or any Republican leader to keep his troops in line in order for the GOP to pass a bill that will soften the Democrats’ advantage with Hispanics prior to 2016.

It is true that President Obama deserves some of the blame here. By choosing to use his State of the Union address to justify a shift toward efforts to bypass Congress and rule by executive order, he played right into the hands of conservatives who accurately point out the president has already demonstrated that his administration will only enforce the laws he agrees with. That means the enforcement element of any immigration package may prove illusory even if Democrats agree to the tough measures Republicans have rightly demanded.

But Obama will not be president forever. Immigration reform is not just good politics but also good public policy. Fixing the system is an imperative, as is policing the border. But if Republicans succumb to the temptation to procrastinate or oppose reform for the sake of avoiding an intra-party squabble, they will not only be making a mistake on the merits of the issue but committing a long-term political error that will ensure their dissatisfaction with the occupant of the Oval Office for decades to come.

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Boehner Won’t Split GOP on Immigration

The mainstream media is still reeling from House Speaker John Boehner’s telling off Heritage Action and other right-wing groups that were attempting to obstruct Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget deal last month. Having pegged Boehner as a Tea Party hostage in the wake of the disastrous government shutdown that he failed to stop, the Speaker’s willingness to talk back to conservative activists has led to expectations that the Ryan budget won’t be the last instance in which the GOP establishment gives the back of its hand to the right.

Thus, Boehner’s hiring of Rebecca Talent, a  longtime immigration adviser to John McCain is fueling expectations that 2014 will be the year when the Republican-controlled House will take up immigration reform after thwarting efforts to change the existing broken system. Yet while those predicting some action on immigration are not wrong, the glee on the left about an impending civil war on the right over this is premature. Though after the shutdown Boehner appears to have learned his lesson about letting the Tea Party caucus run the House asylum, expectations that he will do anything to bring about a major schism even over an issue as vital as immigration are more the product of liberal wishes than conservative strategy.

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The mainstream media is still reeling from House Speaker John Boehner’s telling off Heritage Action and other right-wing groups that were attempting to obstruct Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget deal last month. Having pegged Boehner as a Tea Party hostage in the wake of the disastrous government shutdown that he failed to stop, the Speaker’s willingness to talk back to conservative activists has led to expectations that the Ryan budget won’t be the last instance in which the GOP establishment gives the back of its hand to the right.

Thus, Boehner’s hiring of Rebecca Talent, a  longtime immigration adviser to John McCain is fueling expectations that 2014 will be the year when the Republican-controlled House will take up immigration reform after thwarting efforts to change the existing broken system. Yet while those predicting some action on immigration are not wrong, the glee on the left about an impending civil war on the right over this is premature. Though after the shutdown Boehner appears to have learned his lesson about letting the Tea Party caucus run the House asylum, expectations that he will do anything to bring about a major schism even over an issue as vital as immigration are more the product of liberal wishes than conservative strategy.

Contrary to the spin placed on the hiring of Tallent by the New York Times and other liberal outlets, this is not the first indication of Boehner’s willingness to push forward some kind of immigration legislation. Though he has never had any affection for the comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate, Boehner has been signaling since last spring that what he wanted to do was to break down that omnibus bill and cherry pick parts of it that he thought could pass the House.

Will that be enough to satisfy immigration advocates or the not-inconsiderable number of conservatives who view a more rational approach to the issue as an indispensable element of a rebranding of the GOP in advance of the next presidential election? The answer is almost certainly no. But the speculation about Boehner’s intentions tell us more about the desire of the left for a Republican meltdown than about the actual prospects of a full scale confrontation on the issue on the right.

It is true that Boehner is fed up with Heritage Action and a host of other conservative activist groups that have lost sight of the need for Republicans to find a way to govern rather than engage in guerrilla warfare against the Obama administration and its pet projects. The failure of the shutdown and the juxtaposition of that foolish move with the obvious political benefits of sitting back and letting the Democrats deal with the negative fallout from the president’s ill-conceived health-care law has strengthened the Speaker’s hand against those who would like to maneuver him into a similar strategy on the debt ceiling. But there is a vast difference between the debate on the right about fiscal issues and the one it is having on immigration.

The differences between Tea Partiers and the so-called GOP establishment on the budget, spending, taxes, and even ObamaCare are tactical. If Boehner won’t let Heritage and the Tea Partiers shut down the government again or threaten a default it is not because he secretly likes ObamaCare or wants to enable liberal spending. It’s because he—and the vast majority of conservatives—understand that shutdowns are political mistakes. But on immigration, there is a genuine split among Republicans, especially on providing a path to citizenship for those who are already here illegally.

Count me among those who think the Senate bill was the right approach in many respects. The immigration system is broken and needs a complete overhaul that includes strengthening border security as well as dealing with the reality of approximately 12 million illegals, many of whom have been here for decades and are no threat to anyone.

But given the inability of the government to deal adequately with security issues as well as legitimate concerns about flouting the rule of law, it is an understandable if regrettable fact that what appears to be a majority of Republicans and conservatives oppose the comprehensive bill. A majority of House Republicans also doesn’t exist in support of anything that would provide a path to citizenship for illegals and anyone who thinks Boehner will choose to create a party schism on such an effort in 2014 and sabotage the GOP’s chances in November is almost certainly mistaken.

Republicans do need to change their tone on immigration, not so much because they stand a chance of making major inroads in the Hispanic vote but because some on the right have taken positions that smack of hostility to all immigrants and minorities, thus discrediting the party in the view of more than only those personally concerned.

Yet while Boehner won’t go all the way on immigration, he does have the votes to pass some elements of the reform package. One such measure is adoption of a DREAM Act type of law that will enable those who were brought here illegally as children to become citizens. Another is increasing visas for high-tech workers or dealing with the need to provide a way to fast-track the legalization of agricultural laborers. That won’t go as far as some Republicans want the party to go, let alone please Hispanic leaders or President Obama. But it is a start in the right direction that may provide a basis to deal with larger issues after the 2014 midterms.

But what Boehner won’t do is blow his party up on core immigration issues. Doing so won’t advance the cause of immigration reform but it will increase the Democrats’ chances of holding onto the Senate and making gains in the House. It is hardly surprising that liberals are hoping for just such an outcome, but that has more to do with their political agenda than any sober analysis of what the Speaker might do.

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Has John Boehner Learned His Lesson?

It was a short sound bite but it was replayed endlessly yesterday, angering some conservatives and leaving liberals chortling. When House Speaker John Boehner was asked during a press conference with other Republican leaders about criticisms from conservative activist groups of the budget deal struck by Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, he exploded:

REPORTER: Mr. Speaking, most major conservative groups have put out statements blasting this deal. Are you –

BOEHNER: You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?

REPORTER: Are you worried –

BOEHNER: They are using our members and they are using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.

This is not the first time Boehner has responded to criticism with anger and frustration. But it was a dramatic change of tone on the part of the convivial and often-teary-eyed and sentimental House speaker when it came to the conservative groups and their Tea Party supporters within his caucus. After all, it was only three months ago that Boehner was dragged reluctantly into a damaging government shutdown by the same organizations and members who were carping about the Ryan deal yesterday. Though no one should expect Boehner to be a changed man from the indecisive speaker of the shutdown crisis, he may have learned at least a couple of important lessons from that difficult experience. The days of the Tea Party tale wagging the House Republican big dog appear to be over.

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It was a short sound bite but it was replayed endlessly yesterday, angering some conservatives and leaving liberals chortling. When House Speaker John Boehner was asked during a press conference with other Republican leaders about criticisms from conservative activist groups of the budget deal struck by Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, he exploded:

REPORTER: Mr. Speaking, most major conservative groups have put out statements blasting this deal. Are you –

BOEHNER: You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?

REPORTER: Are you worried –

BOEHNER: They are using our members and they are using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.

This is not the first time Boehner has responded to criticism with anger and frustration. But it was a dramatic change of tone on the part of the convivial and often-teary-eyed and sentimental House speaker when it came to the conservative groups and their Tea Party supporters within his caucus. After all, it was only three months ago that Boehner was dragged reluctantly into a damaging government shutdown by the same organizations and members who were carping about the Ryan deal yesterday. Though no one should expect Boehner to be a changed man from the indecisive speaker of the shutdown crisis, he may have learned at least a couple of important lessons from that difficult experience. The days of the Tea Party tale wagging the House Republican big dog appear to be over.

The incident and the debate about the budget deal are bringing out into the open a conservative civil war that had previously been conducted behind closed doors, at least as far as the House leadership was concerned. Prior to the shutdown there was little doubt that Boehner wasn’t happy about the way some House conservatives and, even more importantly, advocacy groups like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks were helping to limit his options in negotiations with the Democrats. Though he made it clear enough that he knew the decision to try and force the defunding of ObamaCare was doomed to failure and that it would hurt his party, Boehner wound up bowing to the demands of Heritage, Ted Cruz, and the rest of the suicide caucus in the House.

The thinking then was that Boehner worried that if he thwarted those who believed such radical tactics were the only possible response to the health-care law’s implementation, the House Republican membership would be irretrievably split and his speakership might be threatened. What followed was a disaster that not only materially damaged the Republican Party but, just as importantly, served to obscure the ObamaCare rollout fiasco for three weeks as the mainstream media focused instead on those who had warned him against letting himself be buffaloed into a futile shutdown. After 17 days of a shutdown, Republicans were forced to give in having accomplished nothing other than to make his party and congressional Republicans look just like the extremist caricature Democrats had tried to paint them as being.

However, the conclusion of this drama also exploded the myth that Heritage and company really had the power to thwart any effort to pull back from the brink. When Boehner finally concluded a deal that was little more than a face-saving surrender to end the shutdown, the activists screamed bloody murder and warned they would back primary challenges against any Republican who went along. But the tide had shifted against them and few heeded their threats. By the time the dust settled, even some on the right like Senator Rand Paul were admitting the whole thing had been a mistake.

The speaker emerged from this trial chastened by the experience but perhaps also realizing that the bark of the Tea Party caucus was worse than its bite. Many Republicans will oppose the Ryan deal that more or less formalizes a truce with the Democrats on budget issues for the next year and Heritage and others will, as they did with the shutdown, try and make it a litmus test of conservative bona fides. But Boehner and even a conservative deep thinker like Ryan have rightly come to the conclusion that the agreement with Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray is not only as much as they can reasonably hope to get. Even more to the point, they understand that paralyzing the government and Congress with manufactured crises, in order to push for more deficit reduction and the entitlement reform the nation needs but won’t get so long as control of Congress is split between the two parties, is a critical mistake. The nation as a whole and even most rank-and-file Republicans have had enough of the shutdown mentality. Three months ago, it may have seemed as if Boehner had no choice but to accede to the demands of the Tea Partiers. The shutdown may have convinced him that he doesn’t have to do that anymore.

Having methodically worked his way to the leadership over the course of a long career in the House, Boehner is no pushover. But during his time as speaker he hasn’t exactly come across as the sort of politician whom challengers cross at their peril. But the events of the last few months may mean that he will never again be bullied into taking a course of action that he knows is mistaken. This week he has called the Tea Party’s bluff in exactly the manner that many in his party wish he had done back in September. If he sticks to this resolve, both the Congress and the Republican Party will be better off for it.

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The Ongoing Case for Public Morality

Back in September, I celebrated the defeats of Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer in Democratic primary elections in New York City and put forward the notion that perhaps the belated end of the political careers of these scandal-mired characters should cause us to not shy away from putting forward a case for public morality in the future. That’s a proposition most of our chattering classes reject since they tend to believe that when liberals mired in scandals are considered useful or popular (paging Bill Clinton), they tell us not to confuse private conduct with public duties. But it is all the more necessary to return to the topic today now that a Republican has become one of this week’s prime subjects for late-night comedy humor.

Rep. Trey Radel’s arrest in a drug sting for cocaine possession may seem like something straight out of House of Cards. Yet his apparent intention to stay in office requires both liberals and conservatives to come to grips with the question of whether Congress ought to tolerate having lawbreakers in their midst even when they are preemptively seeking to invoke a redemption storyline to gain sympathy. By claiming a leave of absence from Congress to go to rehab during which he will forgo pay, Radel is seeking to silence calls for his resignation. He’s not contesting the facts of the case against him and seemed to be thanking the police for giving him a “wake-up call” to get his life back together as a result of the arrest. “I’m struggling with this disease, but I can overcome it,” he vowed.

I hope he wins that fight. Drug addiction is a disease and those who suffer from it are faced with a lifelong battle for which they deserve our sympathy and encouragement. But that doesn’t entitle them to a seat in Congress. Rep. Radel needs to go home and members of the Republican caucus shouldn’t refrain from pointing this out to him.

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Back in September, I celebrated the defeats of Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer in Democratic primary elections in New York City and put forward the notion that perhaps the belated end of the political careers of these scandal-mired characters should cause us to not shy away from putting forward a case for public morality in the future. That’s a proposition most of our chattering classes reject since they tend to believe that when liberals mired in scandals are considered useful or popular (paging Bill Clinton), they tell us not to confuse private conduct with public duties. But it is all the more necessary to return to the topic today now that a Republican has become one of this week’s prime subjects for late-night comedy humor.

Rep. Trey Radel’s arrest in a drug sting for cocaine possession may seem like something straight out of House of Cards. Yet his apparent intention to stay in office requires both liberals and conservatives to come to grips with the question of whether Congress ought to tolerate having lawbreakers in their midst even when they are preemptively seeking to invoke a redemption storyline to gain sympathy. By claiming a leave of absence from Congress to go to rehab during which he will forgo pay, Radel is seeking to silence calls for his resignation. He’s not contesting the facts of the case against him and seemed to be thanking the police for giving him a “wake-up call” to get his life back together as a result of the arrest. “I’m struggling with this disease, but I can overcome it,” he vowed.

I hope he wins that fight. Drug addiction is a disease and those who suffer from it are faced with a lifelong battle for which they deserve our sympathy and encouragement. But that doesn’t entitle them to a seat in Congress. Rep. Radel needs to go home and members of the Republican caucus shouldn’t refrain from pointing this out to him.

Let us concede that all of us are fallible and no one should expect moral perfection or the façade of it from public officials. But all too often politicians seem to forget that public office is a public trust, not an entitlement. In their egotism, they seem to think their power gives them the impunity to misbehave. And when they get in trouble, they slip into redemption mode and ask us to love them because they are reformed sinners. Sometimes this ploy works better than others (Mark Sanford as opposed to Anthony Weiner) but the main point of these pieces of cheap theater is to perpetuate their grip on power and position.

In the past, House Speaker John Boehner has taken a dim view of scandal-plagued Republicans and quickly shown them the door. It should be recalled that a few months before Anthony Weiner imploded on Twitter in 2011, Rep. Chris Lee, a New York Republican, got in trouble when the married congressman was found to be soliciting women on the Internet. With a firm push from his leadership, he quickly resigned. The question today is why was Lee’s transgression considered political poison but Radel’s lawbreaking is worthy of possible forgiveness? That’s the implication of Boehner’s decision to hold off on pressure on Radel to leave office.

Let’s remember that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has rightly called for “zero tolerance” of ethical issues. What’s changed?

Anyone who gets into hot water in Washington can always point to the pass President John F. Kennedy got from the press for his scandalous doings behind the scenes in the White House even as the public was fed a fairy story about the first family of Camelot. They can also cite the pass President Bill Clinton received from Democrats and the way he has become a political elder statesman whose past disgrace is never thrown in his face. That’s regrettable, but perhaps as a nation we have “evolved” to the point when we no longer consider the spectacle of a powerful middle-aged public official sexually exploiting an intern a big deal. But have we also gotten to the point where we are prepared to tolerate junkies in Congress?

Whatever your position about the utility of the war on drugs or legalization, their use is a plague on society and does enormous damage. Congress’s image may be so bad these days that no one considers them role models, but are we really prepared to normalize lawbreaking associated with their use to the point that we are prepared to “move on” (as Clinton’s defenders said) and welcome them back to Capitol Hill after they return from rehab or the courthouse? Not to mention the hypocrisy of his getting arrested for drugs days after voting for drug tests for people who get food stamps.

The wake-up call here is not just for Radel. It’s for a political class that has too often tolerated wrongdoers in their midst. The American people have a right to expect that those entrusted with high office behave as if it is a public trust. That involves, at a minimum, avoiding public misbehavior. Lawbreaking and drug use ought to be beyond the pale.

Radel holds a safe Republican seat in Florida and, as Sanford proved, Southern voters seem to love a reformed sinner. But Boehner and Cantor ought not even consider allowing Radel to hold on until November 2014. He needs to resign. Now.

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Is the Shutdown Caucus Happy Now?

Yesterday’s farcical failure of House Speaker John Boehner to get enough members of his own party to commit to supporting his compromise measure to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling told us all we needed to know about just how dysfunctional the Republican caucus has become. As I noted yesterday, Boehner’s measure was an acceptance of reality. The GOP has lost the shutdown fight and the only thing that is yet to be determined is the terms of surrender. Boehner tried to give his party a slightly larger fig leaf than the Senate Republicans were able to coax out of Harry Reid. But conservative hardliners were having none of it. Even at this late date and with the debt-ceiling deadline hanging over them, they wouldn’t go along with Boehner forcing him to withdraw his proposal and leaving the field to a Senate bill. That will likely mean that in order to avoid even the theoretical danger of default, Boehner may have to simply let the Senate bill onto the House floor for a vote where it will pass on the strength of Democratic votes along with a minority of Republicans.

In other words, after weeks of suffering the opprobrium of the mainstream media as well as increasing the distrust felt by many Americans for their party, what exactly did the GOP accomplish via the shutdown tactic?

Did trying a government shutdown defund ObamaCare? No. Did it force President Obama to make a single tangible concession to Republicans or give way on something that would help them fight the battle against growing deficits and debt or the ObamaCare fiasco further down the line? No. Did it weaken and further divide the Republican Party? Yes.

That leaves us with one more question: Are those that egged Boehner on to force a shutdown fight happy with these results?

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Yesterday’s farcical failure of House Speaker John Boehner to get enough members of his own party to commit to supporting his compromise measure to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling told us all we needed to know about just how dysfunctional the Republican caucus has become. As I noted yesterday, Boehner’s measure was an acceptance of reality. The GOP has lost the shutdown fight and the only thing that is yet to be determined is the terms of surrender. Boehner tried to give his party a slightly larger fig leaf than the Senate Republicans were able to coax out of Harry Reid. But conservative hardliners were having none of it. Even at this late date and with the debt-ceiling deadline hanging over them, they wouldn’t go along with Boehner forcing him to withdraw his proposal and leaving the field to a Senate bill. That will likely mean that in order to avoid even the theoretical danger of default, Boehner may have to simply let the Senate bill onto the House floor for a vote where it will pass on the strength of Democratic votes along with a minority of Republicans.

In other words, after weeks of suffering the opprobrium of the mainstream media as well as increasing the distrust felt by many Americans for their party, what exactly did the GOP accomplish via the shutdown tactic?

Did trying a government shutdown defund ObamaCare? No. Did it force President Obama to make a single tangible concession to Republicans or give way on something that would help them fight the battle against growing deficits and debt or the ObamaCare fiasco further down the line? No. Did it weaken and further divide the Republican Party? Yes.

That leaves us with one more question: Are those that egged Boehner on to force a shutdown fight happy with these results?

It still remains to be seen whether Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee will fall on their swords and try to delay or prevent the Senate bill re-opening the government from passing. It is also possible that Speaker Boehner may try one more last, likely futile, parliamentary trick to cook up a deal that will be marginally more favorable to conservative interests. But the odds are, by the end of the week, we’ll be talking about Congress having to clean up the rubble left behind by the brutal battle these two and their House Tea Party friends fomented.

It’s also likely that they will take no responsibility for this crushing defeat. If anything, we can expect that they will blame their failure to come up with a strategy that had a chance of success or even an endgame that would allow their party a dignified path of retreat, on more reasonable Republicans — wrongly called RINOs by some Tea Partiers — who looked on in horror as they goaded Boehner to take the GOP over the cliff. But let’s make it clear that what is happening now isn’t the fault of those who said all along that this wouldn’t work. It’s the responsibility of a faction that simply wasn’t thinking straight about the best way to advance their goals and wound up doing more damage to the conservative movement than the Democrats could have ever done without their help.

As bad as it looks now, having wasted the country’s time in this manner won’t mean the end of the Republican Party. Like any party that doesn’t control the White House, it will remain divided and prey to factional disputes. But it will survive to fight another day and, with luck, will still be in position to hold onto the House and maybe even challenge the Democrats for control of the Senate next year. Perhaps once the shutdown is over, the nation will turn its full attention to the debacle of the ObamaCare rollout, which is where it should have been all along.

But neither should we forget who were the architects of defeat this week. John Boehner may be the poor soul who will have to preside over the formal surrender to the Democrats who will rightly crow about how they stood up to the Tea Party and defended the president’s signature health care legislation. Cruz and Lee and all those House members who thought this was a good idea owe their party and the country a better explanation than the one we’re likely to hear. And if either ever seeks the leadership of the party in 2016, they should be called to account for what they’ve done.

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The GOP Chooses Surrender Over Suicide

After more than two weeks, it appears that a deal is in place to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. The bargain that has been agreed to in principle by the leaders of the Senate will kick the can down the round until early next year. It will end the current crisis before things get so messy that it will cease to be a political problem and become an economic one. But there isn’t much doubt about the fact that Republicans get virtually nothing out of it. After months of huffing and puffing about ObamaCare as well as the debt, the GOP is now in a position where it has to choose between spiraling the country into what could become an economic crisis or to concede that it was basically all for nothing.

At the moment it appears that House Speaker John Boehner will ask members of his caucus to vote for a House version of the deal that is so similar to that of the Senate that any distinction is purely theoretical. But some of the conservatives who goaded Boehner into setting off this showdown are saying they won’t wave the white flag and hand this victory to President Obama. Indeed, one of them said this to the New York Times about supporting the Senate plan:

“We’ve got a name for it in the House: it’s called the Senate surrender caucus,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas. “Anybody who would vote for that in the House as Republican would virtually guarantee a primary challenger.”

Huelskamp is blowing smoke about a primary challenge for everyone who votes with Boehner but he’s right that what he and other Republicans are being asked to do today is to surrender. But the question for him is the same one that could have been posed every day throughout this debate. What’s the alternative? Having started a fight without a strategy to win it or an endgame that could allow them to opt out of it without looking servile, it’s a little late to complain about a surrender caucus when the only other choice is a suicide caucus since allowing the debt ceiling to expire or to continue the shutdown indefinitely is not only bad politics but a blueprint for, as our John Steele Gordon pointed out yesterday, another recession or worse.

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After more than two weeks, it appears that a deal is in place to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. The bargain that has been agreed to in principle by the leaders of the Senate will kick the can down the round until early next year. It will end the current crisis before things get so messy that it will cease to be a political problem and become an economic one. But there isn’t much doubt about the fact that Republicans get virtually nothing out of it. After months of huffing and puffing about ObamaCare as well as the debt, the GOP is now in a position where it has to choose between spiraling the country into what could become an economic crisis or to concede that it was basically all for nothing.

At the moment it appears that House Speaker John Boehner will ask members of his caucus to vote for a House version of the deal that is so similar to that of the Senate that any distinction is purely theoretical. But some of the conservatives who goaded Boehner into setting off this showdown are saying they won’t wave the white flag and hand this victory to President Obama. Indeed, one of them said this to the New York Times about supporting the Senate plan:

“We’ve got a name for it in the House: it’s called the Senate surrender caucus,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas. “Anybody who would vote for that in the House as Republican would virtually guarantee a primary challenger.”

Huelskamp is blowing smoke about a primary challenge for everyone who votes with Boehner but he’s right that what he and other Republicans are being asked to do today is to surrender. But the question for him is the same one that could have been posed every day throughout this debate. What’s the alternative? Having started a fight without a strategy to win it or an endgame that could allow them to opt out of it without looking servile, it’s a little late to complain about a surrender caucus when the only other choice is a suicide caucus since allowing the debt ceiling to expire or to continue the shutdown indefinitely is not only bad politics but a blueprint for, as our John Steele Gordon pointed out yesterday, another recession or worse.

At this point, the problem is no longer about who is to blame for this.

Yes, as I have noted many times, blaming it all on the Tea Party doesn’t tell us much about how it happened. President Obama and the Democrats are being just as ideological as the GOP when they say they will not accept the defunding of ObamaCare. It’s also true that the president has been hoping for a shutdown since 2011 because he thought it would damage Republicans. His refusal to negotiate made the standoff happen and his party is also suffering a decline in public approval as a result of it.

But let’s also not deceive ourselves about which side gave Obama what he wanted. Conservatives like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee pushed for a showdown because they assured us that if Republicans hung tough, the president would blink. Much to the dismay of many more sober conservatives, Speaker Boehner went along with them and the GOP did wind up hanging as tough as the Tea Partiers had demanded. But as just about everybody who didn’t drink Cruz’s Kool-Aid predicted, the Democrats also stood their ground. With control of the Senate and the White House, the Democrats have a clear advantage over the Republicans and used it. If Boehner is now looking for the exit sign from the dead end that his party’s hardliners backed him into, it is because there really isn’t a choice.

No doubt conservatives will try and cling to some of the fig leaves left the in the Senate and House versions of the deal and say they accomplished something. But this will be as disingenuous as the Democrats’ claim to be the adults in the room. This is a Republican defeat pure and simple and there’s no way to sugarcoat it. And they’re accepting it because the alternative is to do the country material damage and to dig an even deeper political hole than the one they’ve already dug for themselves.

If there is anything to be retrieved from the rubble of the shutdown for Republicans it is the hope that the budget conference that is part of the deal might enable Rep. Paul Ryan — the voice of principle and sanity in the GOP caucus — to move the discussion from the simplistic demands of Cruz and Lee to a more productive debate about entitlement reform and debt that will strengthen the party’s position.

But that’s a discussion for another day. The real story now is about a GOP decision between surrender and suicide and their inevitable vote in favor of the former. It’s a bitter day for Boehner but the ones who should really be eating crow are Cruz, Lee and all those who backed him into this foolish gambit.

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Another Dem “No” Could Be a Big Mistake

After weeks of heeding the calls to confrontation from their most hard-line members, the House Republican leadership has taken a step toward at least a partial settlement of the current fiscal standoff. The question is: can President Obama and the Democrats get off their high horse and accept this olive branch? Leading up to today’s meeting between the president and a group of Republicans, every indication is that the answer is no.

Democrats will argue that the Republican proposal, which would grant a six-week extension of the debt ceiling (with no spending cuts) while setting in place a process for resolving the other conflict over the budget that has led to a government shutdown, doesn’t satisfy the president’s demands. It leaves the government shutdown in place and obligates the president and his Democratic allies to negotiate with the GOP over both the budget and the debt. As such, they may well turn it down and demand either a one-year debt extension offered by Senate Democrats or simply hunker down and stick to their ultimatum requiring a complete Republican surrender on both the shutdown and the debt before the White House will deign to negotiate about anything else. Such a response would be consistent with the administration’s belief (backed up by opinion polls) that they are winning the shutdown and that all that is needed for the president to complete his triumph is just to stick to his position and wait for House Speaker John Boehner and his allies to give up.

But ten days into the shutdown, it’s time for the president to start re-evaluating his position. As much as the Democrats are getting less of the blame for the mess in Washington than the Republicans, the president’s 37 percent job approval rating should remind them that although the GOP is getting battered, nobody is winning in this fight. And if the president can’t find a way to accept the Republicans’ debt ceiling extension offer, then he may discover that the political fallout will start to even out.

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After weeks of heeding the calls to confrontation from their most hard-line members, the House Republican leadership has taken a step toward at least a partial settlement of the current fiscal standoff. The question is: can President Obama and the Democrats get off their high horse and accept this olive branch? Leading up to today’s meeting between the president and a group of Republicans, every indication is that the answer is no.

Democrats will argue that the Republican proposal, which would grant a six-week extension of the debt ceiling (with no spending cuts) while setting in place a process for resolving the other conflict over the budget that has led to a government shutdown, doesn’t satisfy the president’s demands. It leaves the government shutdown in place and obligates the president and his Democratic allies to negotiate with the GOP over both the budget and the debt. As such, they may well turn it down and demand either a one-year debt extension offered by Senate Democrats or simply hunker down and stick to their ultimatum requiring a complete Republican surrender on both the shutdown and the debt before the White House will deign to negotiate about anything else. Such a response would be consistent with the administration’s belief (backed up by opinion polls) that they are winning the shutdown and that all that is needed for the president to complete his triumph is just to stick to his position and wait for House Speaker John Boehner and his allies to give up.

But ten days into the shutdown, it’s time for the president to start re-evaluating his position. As much as the Democrats are getting less of the blame for the mess in Washington than the Republicans, the president’s 37 percent job approval rating should remind them that although the GOP is getting battered, nobody is winning in this fight. And if the president can’t find a way to accept the Republicans’ debt ceiling extension offer, then he may discover that the political fallout will start to even out.

Boehner’s strategy is fraught with danger for both parties. Though the House leadership appears willing to try and start finding a way out of the current impasse, many hard-line GOP conservatives are still reluctant to compromise and might actually vote against Boehner’s proposal if it came to a vote because there are no conditions attached to the debt limit extension. That would set up a theoretical situation in which the House leadership would be dependent on Democratic votes and therefore allow the president’s allies to scuttle the compromise and embarrass Boehner.

Just as troubling for Boehner is a scenario in which the president turns him down and forces him to get closer to the artificial debt deadline of next Wednesday. That would, as the president hopes, probably increase the pressure on the House to bend to the president’s demands.

But blindly sticking to his position of no negotiations until the House gives in on both the debt ceiling and the shutdown may be more dangerous for President Obama than he thinks.

So long as the public’s focus has been on Tea Party leaders like Senator Ted Cruz and their unrealistic (if justified) demands that ObamaCare be scrapped in exchange for a continuing resolution to fund the government, the White House wins. But once the spotlight shifts irrevocably to the affable Boehner and his compromise efforts, all the rhetoric emanating from the White House and Democratic leaders about hostage taking and extremism begins to sound a bit hysterical. It also makes the president’s refusal to negotiate sound that much more shrill and partisan.

Today’s compromise proposal may not be the beginning of the end of this battle. But it may be, to use one of Winston Churchill’s lines, the end of the beginning. At some point, the president is going to realize that not talking and demanding surrender are unattractive to most of the American public. As a second-term president with mounting problems at home and abroad, he’d be wise to find a way out of this mess before the turning point arrives and more Americans start blaming him, as they perhaps should have done all along.

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Democrats Bench Obama in Favor of Reid

There have been numerous profiles of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over the past week or so, after he took the lead on government shutdown non-negotiations and began something of a public meltdown. He took some heat for angrily snapping at CNN’s Dana Bash and badly fumbling a question about funding for cancer treatment. He also threatened to leak private emails from Republican House Speaker John Boehner to the press, and then did so.

Because of his temper and his tendency to lash out, Reid has always been more effective working behind the scenes to protect Democrats’ priorities and find procedural ways to further marginalize Republican participation in the legislative process. With the attention on the government shutdown, it was inevitable Reid would have to step somewhat into the spotlight, and Beltway media are noticing. But by far the most enlightening profile of Reid’s new, more public role is today’s version in the Hill. It is from this story we learn that President Obama has, essentially, been benched:

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There have been numerous profiles of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over the past week or so, after he took the lead on government shutdown non-negotiations and began something of a public meltdown. He took some heat for angrily snapping at CNN’s Dana Bash and badly fumbling a question about funding for cancer treatment. He also threatened to leak private emails from Republican House Speaker John Boehner to the press, and then did so.

Because of his temper and his tendency to lash out, Reid has always been more effective working behind the scenes to protect Democrats’ priorities and find procedural ways to further marginalize Republican participation in the legislative process. With the attention on the government shutdown, it was inevitable Reid would have to step somewhat into the spotlight, and Beltway media are noticing. But by far the most enlightening profile of Reid’s new, more public role is today’s version in the Hill. It is from this story we learn that President Obama has, essentially, been benched:

President Obama has handed over the reins of leadership on government funding and the debt limit to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Reid is now fully in charge of his party’s negotiating strategy, a significant change from past showdowns with Republicans.

He has taken the initiative from Obama, who played the principal role in the 2011 debt-limit talks and New Year’s fiscal cliff deal. Some Democrats on Capitol Hill are relieved by the switch.

The story goes on to note the “pugnacious style” Reid has brought to the crisis, which is an understatement. But the change in command is not really about “style,” the story explains:

Liberal Democrats do not fully trust Obama, in part because of his more diplomatic style. Their disquiet was deepened by his past tax deals with Republicans and repeated offers to trim Social Security and Medicare costs.

Obama alarmed some in the Senate Democratic caucus last week when he convened congressional leaders at the White House to discuss the government shutdown and looming debt-limit debate.

They feared he might take the lead in the talks and make concessions to get past the current fiscal crisis.

“There’s some concern being expressed now that Obama is calling the leaders to the White House that this might be premature,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, a senior Democrat from Iowa. “What’s he going to say? What’s he going to do?

“I hope he just says, ‘Harry’s the leader. We’re following Sen. Reid,’” he added.

Even if this is the truth, it would probably be more appropriate for these Democrats to avoid humiliating Obama like this. But it certainly is revealing. Probably the best description of the Democrats’ mindset from the beginning of the shutdown is that they were “alarmed” when Obama invited congressional leaders to talk. Even communicating with Republicans is frowned upon.

And why are Democrats opposed to Obama participating in the current round of national politics? Because they fear he will negotiate in good faith–the idea of which has sent Reid into an erratic tailspin–and that the president will think he has more authority here than Reid. That’s not how Democrats see it: “There’s no question, Reid is now the quarterback,” one Senate aide told the Hill.

Of course there is logic to Reid’s strategy. Polling shows that Republicans went against public opinion to risk shutting down the government over ObamaCare, and they do not seem to have had a fully developed strategy for winning the showdown. Democrats see negotiations as throwing a lifeline to a Republican caucus seemingly in need of one. As the White House’s petty behavior has shown, the Democrats would prefer the shutdown continue and are attempting to make it as painful as possible on the country because they assume Republicans will get the blame for the effects of the shutdown.

The story suggests that when it comes to the government turning its abusive tactics on the American people, Reid thinks that even Obama has his limits. Nobody thinks Reid has such limits, which is why Democrats are going to the press with declarations of loyalty to Reid and suggestions that maybe the president sit this one out.

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Is Boehner’s Endgame a Debt Deal?

It’s day two of the government shutdown and, contrary to the expectations of optimists on both sides of the political divide, neither House Speaker John Boehner nor President Obama appears to be blinking. But no one should be under the impression that the two are fighting this battle on an equal footing.

The president has a united Democratic Party behind him with the overwhelming majority of the mainstream media cheering him on from the sidelines and portraying his foes as either clowns or terrorists holding the nation hostage. Boehner can’t even count on all of the Republicans in the House, let alone a Senate minority caucus, most of which never wanted any part of this circus. And with complaints about the hardships being caused by the shutdown—whether it is to cancer patients or national intelligence—rising Democrats see no reason why they should allow House Republicans to alleviate some suffering in the bills they are attempting to pass today. Despite the president’s invitation to congressional leaders to come the White House later today, we’ve been told he won’t negotiate.

Since the president is not only not negotiating but also acting as if nothing short of unconditional surrender by the GOP will satisfy him, it’s little wonder that a lot of the smart money has been on Boehner folding sometime in the next couple of days. That possibility can’t be discounted, but even with some of his caucus wavering, the desire of many Republicans to dig in their heels and wait for the debt-ceiling deadline to approach may enable Boehner to hold on for longer than many thought possible.

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It’s day two of the government shutdown and, contrary to the expectations of optimists on both sides of the political divide, neither House Speaker John Boehner nor President Obama appears to be blinking. But no one should be under the impression that the two are fighting this battle on an equal footing.

The president has a united Democratic Party behind him with the overwhelming majority of the mainstream media cheering him on from the sidelines and portraying his foes as either clowns or terrorists holding the nation hostage. Boehner can’t even count on all of the Republicans in the House, let alone a Senate minority caucus, most of which never wanted any part of this circus. And with complaints about the hardships being caused by the shutdown—whether it is to cancer patients or national intelligence—rising Democrats see no reason why they should allow House Republicans to alleviate some suffering in the bills they are attempting to pass today. Despite the president’s invitation to congressional leaders to come the White House later today, we’ve been told he won’t negotiate.

Since the president is not only not negotiating but also acting as if nothing short of unconditional surrender by the GOP will satisfy him, it’s little wonder that a lot of the smart money has been on Boehner folding sometime in the next couple of days. That possibility can’t be discounted, but even with some of his caucus wavering, the desire of many Republicans to dig in their heels and wait for the debt-ceiling deadline to approach may enable Boehner to hold on for longer than many thought possible.

Keeping this standoff going until Congress must raise the debt ceiling is potentially an even more dangerous strategy for Republicans than their original idea to tie continuation of government funding to a demand to ditch or delay ObamaCare. As the days go by, the government shutdown is—despite the histrionic attempts by the administration to hype the impact—appearing as more of an inconvenience than a catastrophe, let alone a tragedy. But going to the brink on paying the national debt is the sort of thing that can create genuine economic problems that can’t be paid for by stunts like the Republican National Committee’s attempt to pay for keeping the World War II Memorial open. Should Republicans wind up getting the blame for a default as well as a shutdown, the blowback will be considerable and perhaps even felt by red-state stalwarts who theoretically have nothing to fear from the electorate.

It’s worth restating that the strategy of trying to stop ObamaCare by refusing to fund the government was a colossal error by the Republicans. Speaker Boehner and many GOP members of the House and the Senate didn’t want to do it but were dragged into it by a faction of their caucus determined to plunge the party off the cliff on the issue. The shutdown has transformed the president from the weakling who got pushed around by Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin into the tough guy that won’t back down from the GOP. But it’s possible that Boehner has gotten in so deep he can’t find a rationale that will enable him to escape this dilemma. Having arrived at this point, a precipitate retreat now might hurt his ability to hang on as speaker as much as ignoring the Tea Party prior to this week might have done.

So while it’s difficult to imagine what Boehner’s endgame can possibly be, the approach of a new, far more urgent deadline might give him a glimmer of hope. It is possible that even though Obama’s position has never been stronger or the president more confident of victory, Boehner may think he can trade the end of the shutdown for a debt deal that he can sell to his party as at least a partial victory. If so, even though the GOP position seems hopeless and about to get even worse, holding out for another few days or even a couple of weeks might cause the president to start sweating. And once that happens, a deal over some elements of the budget or some of the secondary issues with ObamaCare, such as elimination of the congressional exemptions or the medical device tax or something that won’t look like Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, is theoretically possible.

If that doesn’t sound to you like a coherent plan or viable political strategy, you’re right, it isn’t. But it’s all John Boehner has right now, and barring a massive defection of GOP members in the next 24 hours, it may be what Republicans are waiting for.

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Must Republicans Blink on the Shutdown?

The government shutdown went into effect last night, and even before most Americans had absorbed the news or had learned what it actually meant there was little doubt about how it would end. The House Republicans who had refused to pass a continuing resolution funding the government without attaching conditions about the future of ObamaCare would be forced to back down before long. Backed by polls that said the public blamed the GOP more than the Democrats, President Obama and the Senate Democratic majority stonewalled any idea of negotiations with the House. With the mainstream media pouring on the invective aimed at conservatives while broadcasting endless sob stories about those suffering from the shutdown, and with many Republicans publicly dissenting from the strategy chosen by House Speaker John Boehner, Democrats woke up this morning confident that it wouldn’t be long before the GOP would blink and pass a “clean” resolution that would end the standoff.

But is that really the way it will happen?

There’s no question that Democrats are in a stronger position today, at least as far as public opinion is concerned. But the expectation that the GOP must give in and do so quickly may be mistaken. As I noted last night, after having gone this far in order to make a point about their unwillingness to go along with ObamaCare, for Boehner to cave in quickly would only worsen his party’s situation. Having taken a stand on points they believe are eminently defensible—applying ObamaCare to Congress and the staff of the White House and a demand to delay the penalties attached to the health-care bill’s personal mandate—and with the president declaring he won’t negotiate and with an even more important deadline looming in three weeks about raising the debt ceiling, the GOP may not have as much incentive to surrender as their opponents think.

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The government shutdown went into effect last night, and even before most Americans had absorbed the news or had learned what it actually meant there was little doubt about how it would end. The House Republicans who had refused to pass a continuing resolution funding the government without attaching conditions about the future of ObamaCare would be forced to back down before long. Backed by polls that said the public blamed the GOP more than the Democrats, President Obama and the Senate Democratic majority stonewalled any idea of negotiations with the House. With the mainstream media pouring on the invective aimed at conservatives while broadcasting endless sob stories about those suffering from the shutdown, and with many Republicans publicly dissenting from the strategy chosen by House Speaker John Boehner, Democrats woke up this morning confident that it wouldn’t be long before the GOP would blink and pass a “clean” resolution that would end the standoff.

But is that really the way it will happen?

There’s no question that Democrats are in a stronger position today, at least as far as public opinion is concerned. But the expectation that the GOP must give in and do so quickly may be mistaken. As I noted last night, after having gone this far in order to make a point about their unwillingness to go along with ObamaCare, for Boehner to cave in quickly would only worsen his party’s situation. Having taken a stand on points they believe are eminently defensible—applying ObamaCare to Congress and the staff of the White House and a demand to delay the penalties attached to the health-care bill’s personal mandate—and with the president declaring he won’t negotiate and with an even more important deadline looming in three weeks about raising the debt ceiling, the GOP may not have as much incentive to surrender as their opponents think.

Let me specify that the decision to call the president’s bluff on the shutdown was unwise. There was never a chance the Democrats would agree to defund ObamaCare and no game plan that would give the Republicans a viable exit strategy from such a standoff, let alone a way to win it. But having gotten into this position, it must be conceded that the widespread belief that they will be forced to wave the white flag within days is based on a set of expectations that aren’t necessarily valid.

As the Washington Examiner wisely noted this morning, the comparisons to the disastrous 1995 shutdown need to be re-examined. As much as Senator John McCain may be right when he said that he had seen this movie before, the circumstances are slightly different. Unlike in 1995, mainstream liberal media pressure on Republicans is now offset by not only Fox News but also conservative talk radio, a medium that is placing pressure on the GOP to stand firm, not to give in. The conservative base that helped goad the Republicans into this fix is equally unwilling to see them weasel their way out of it, at least not without a fight.

Just as important is the nature of their antagonist. In 1995, Republicans were faced with a Democratic president who made a career out of successfully pretending to be a centrist. President Obama may have run in 2008 as a post-partisan candidate, but he dropped that act a long time ago and is a far more polarizing figure. When the president told NPR this morning that he “will not negotiate” with Republicans, that was what his liberal base wanted to hear. But it is not a stand that is likely to increase pressure on the GOP. To the contrary, the more Obama dares them to dig in their heels, the more likely it is that conservatives will do just that.

All along, critics of the shutdown strategy have assumed that simply because there was no clear exit strategy the consequences of a shutdown would be enough to pressure Republicans to blink once the Democrats refused to budge. But the problem with that critique is that while Senator Ted Cruz and others were blowing smoke when they said Obama would cave, there may not be sufficient leverage on the other side that would cause Boehner to blink.

Indeed, the longer this goes on, the more likely it may be that Republicans start to think time is on their side rather than against them. President Obama has been hoping for this shutdown for two years but only because he, like so many others, assumed it would not last long. As the days pass with Senate Democrats refusing to go into a conference with House Republicans and Obama drawing a line in the sand, pressure may start to build on him to give a little. The financial markets are not collapsing today because of the belief the shutdown will be brief. Once that changes, the economic impact will change with it.

This doesn’t mean that Republicans are likely to succeed, but it does raise the possibility of something few of us expected in the event of a shutdown: a prolonged struggle that could wind up morphing into the next big battle over the debt. That doesn’t mean the decision to go down this road by either party was wise. But the longer this goes on, the more everyone gets damaged and the less likely either side is to give in. Anyone planning to visit the Statue of Liberty in the next week or two should think about a change in plans. 

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This May Last Longer Than You Think

Barring some miraculous turn of events, it appears the government shutdown will happen tonight. President Obama is confident that the majority of the public will blame Republicans for this and isn’t budging. House Speaker John Boehner may not be so sanguine about the political wisdom of his course of action, but he is also determined to follow the desires of his members to make a stand against the implementation of ObamaCare. Moreover, he seems to feel that after weeks if not months of searching for the right way to make this stand, his party has found two issues—a call for delaying the president’s signature health-care bill and a demand that Congress, its staff, and those that work in the White House not be exempt from it—that are eminently defensible reasons on which to stand their ground.

But just because both sides in this confrontation are finally where they want to be doesn’t mean that they are prepared to stick out a shutdown that will last longer than a day or two. What we will learn in the next 48 or 72 hours is which (if any) of the two parties will blink first once a government shutdown becomes a reality. Most in the press as well as Congress are betting it will be the Republicans. They reason that the pictures of closed national parks and other alleged hardships, not to mention falling stock prices and the potentially dangerous impact of the standoff on the economy will cause the GOP to crack even if they manage to get to midnight without surrendering.

But having come this far, Boehner may think that it would be more dangerous for his party to have gone to the brink for a day or two only to wave the white flag once the consequences of a shutdown raise the political stakes. If a shutdown happens, he may decide it will do the GOP less harm to stick it out than to have put the country through the wringer again only to give in once the going got tough.

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Barring some miraculous turn of events, it appears the government shutdown will happen tonight. President Obama is confident that the majority of the public will blame Republicans for this and isn’t budging. House Speaker John Boehner may not be so sanguine about the political wisdom of his course of action, but he is also determined to follow the desires of his members to make a stand against the implementation of ObamaCare. Moreover, he seems to feel that after weeks if not months of searching for the right way to make this stand, his party has found two issues—a call for delaying the president’s signature health-care bill and a demand that Congress, its staff, and those that work in the White House not be exempt from it—that are eminently defensible reasons on which to stand their ground.

But just because both sides in this confrontation are finally where they want to be doesn’t mean that they are prepared to stick out a shutdown that will last longer than a day or two. What we will learn in the next 48 or 72 hours is which (if any) of the two parties will blink first once a government shutdown becomes a reality. Most in the press as well as Congress are betting it will be the Republicans. They reason that the pictures of closed national parks and other alleged hardships, not to mention falling stock prices and the potentially dangerous impact of the standoff on the economy will cause the GOP to crack even if they manage to get to midnight without surrendering.

But having come this far, Boehner may think that it would be more dangerous for his party to have gone to the brink for a day or two only to wave the white flag once the consequences of a shutdown raise the political stakes. If a shutdown happens, he may decide it will do the GOP less harm to stick it out than to have put the country through the wringer again only to give in once the going got tough.

Republicans leading the charge for a shutdown have been insisting all along that the president would be the one to blink if only Republicans stayed united and hung tough. That proposition is about to be tested, and based on President Obama’s late Monday afternoon appearance in which he once again dared the GOP to try him, it seems unlikely that he will fold so long as the liberal press is prepared to depict conservatives as a bunch of clowns.

He has been courting a shutdown since 2011 and clearly appears to believe that he can turn his sagging second term around by facing down the GOP and winning. Since he thinks the worse things get the better it will be for Democrats, he has no incentive to compromise even on the most reasonable of Republican demands about not exempting federal employees from the joys of ObamaCare.

But what the president may be about to discover is that he has backed the Republicans into a spot they also have no great incentive to abandon. The assumption that the Republicans will quail in the face of media opprobrium and sob stories about furloughed federal employees doesn’t take into account the fact that having stuck their necks out this far, a quick retreat may do them more harm than good. Not only would their base not forgive Boehner for cracking, but independents prepared to blame the Democrats or both parties equally for the problem might think worse of them for acting as if the whole thing was a charade.

If so, we may be in for a longer confrontation than anyone thought with consequences for both sides that are equally unpredictable. Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy shutdown.

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The ObamaCare Shutdown Crackup

It started as an appeal to principle against pure pragmatism. It is ending as farce. After getting their way in the House of Representatives last Friday when House Speaker John Boehner agreed to push through a bill funding the government but not ObamaCare, Tea Party hardliners were faced with a problem. Once the bill was in the Senate’s hands, the Democratic majority would trash it. So in order to continue their quixotic quest, Senator Ted Cruz, whose fiery rhetoric and implicit threats of primary opposition for any Republican who didn’t join his suicide caucus had helped create this dilemma, had to come up with a tactic that would keep the fight going without immediately kicking it back to the House. Ever resourceful, Cruz found an answer. But it is not one that is going to do his cause any good.

Cruz’s solution to the problem was to effectively back a filibuster of the House bill that he supports. No, that’s not a typographical error. In order to stop ObamaCare, Senate conservatives are going to have to vote against cloture of the bill that they spent the last few weeks cajoling and threatening the House GOP to pass. But as they say in Texas, that is a dog that will not hunt.

Theoretically, the tactic will trigger the showdown with President Obama and the Democrats that Cruz has been assuring the GOP grass roots can be won if only Republicans don’t lose their nerve. But in order to get there he is forcing Senate Republicans to adopt a hypocritical stance that is too much for even some of the most stalwart conservatives and libertarians. Put simply, if even Rand Paul thinks this is a situation where some compromise is called for, it’s time to drop the curtain on the government shutdown drama that has convulsed the Republican Party and threatens to rescue an Obama administration that is about to fade into lame-duck irrelevancy.

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It started as an appeal to principle against pure pragmatism. It is ending as farce. After getting their way in the House of Representatives last Friday when House Speaker John Boehner agreed to push through a bill funding the government but not ObamaCare, Tea Party hardliners were faced with a problem. Once the bill was in the Senate’s hands, the Democratic majority would trash it. So in order to continue their quixotic quest, Senator Ted Cruz, whose fiery rhetoric and implicit threats of primary opposition for any Republican who didn’t join his suicide caucus had helped create this dilemma, had to come up with a tactic that would keep the fight going without immediately kicking it back to the House. Ever resourceful, Cruz found an answer. But it is not one that is going to do his cause any good.

Cruz’s solution to the problem was to effectively back a filibuster of the House bill that he supports. No, that’s not a typographical error. In order to stop ObamaCare, Senate conservatives are going to have to vote against cloture of the bill that they spent the last few weeks cajoling and threatening the House GOP to pass. But as they say in Texas, that is a dog that will not hunt.

Theoretically, the tactic will trigger the showdown with President Obama and the Democrats that Cruz has been assuring the GOP grass roots can be won if only Republicans don’t lose their nerve. But in order to get there he is forcing Senate Republicans to adopt a hypocritical stance that is too much for even some of the most stalwart conservatives and libertarians. Put simply, if even Rand Paul thinks this is a situation where some compromise is called for, it’s time to drop the curtain on the government shutdown drama that has convulsed the Republican Party and threatens to rescue an Obama administration that is about to fade into lame-duck irrelevancy.

To say that Senate Republicans aren’t buying Cruz’s cynical stand is an understatement. While no one should ever underestimate the willingness of U.S. senators to twist themselves into pretzels to gain a momentary advantage, asking the GOP to filibuster the very bill they begged the House to pass is a bridge too far even for Cruz. There is no way that he will get 41 Republicans to go along with this farce, and for good reason.

Even if one thought that, at least in theory, it was possible for Republicans to go to the brink with the president over defunding the government over ObamaCare, to do so in this manner isn’t just suicidal; it’s insane. As difficult a sell as a shutdown would be for the GOP, to do so while filibustering your own party’s bill should be considered excessive even by Cruz’s standards. The president was always going to win such a standoff, but if that is the ground on which the Republicans choose to make their stand, the administration doesn’t even have to make much of an effort to convince the public that any damage that results from a shutdown should be blamed on the GOP.

And that should lead those who have spent the last week blasting Boehner as a craven hostage of his Tea Party caucus to rethink their evaluation of the speaker. By going along with those conservatives clamoring for eliminating funding for ObamaCare, he seemed to be caving in and supporting a shutdown. But what he has done is to merely serve the ball back into Cruz’s court, knowing full well that the Texan has no viable option to continue the battle. Rather than setting a shutdown in motion, Boehner’s action may actually be the first step toward a rational agreement that will allow the GOP to avoid going over the cliff with the Tea Party. Since he has given his members a chance to vote to defund ObamaCare, the failure of the Senate firebrands may enable him to ask the House to pass a compromise that will avoid catastrophe.

Cruz and his followers will denounce such rational behavior, but if Boehner eventually gets his way President Obama will have good reason to be disappointed. As much as ObamaCare is a mess that should never have been passed, there is simply no path to its elimination so long as the Democrats control the White House and the Senate. Recognizing this fact isn’t the act of a RINO, it is merely rational analysis of the problem. The crackup of the shutdown effort illustrates that Cruz and company are all about the rhetoric but never had a game plan to actually get their way. Republicans should pay close attention to the way this is playing out and thank Providence if their party narrowly avoids the disaster they seemed headed for last week.

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Boehner’s Recess Gambit May Backfire

Because of the current division of power in Washington, the one group that goes mostly ignored in coverage of legislative fights is the House Democratic caucus. Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, but have enough seats to force bipartisan compromise for anything to pass. The GOP controls the House, which doesn’t have to ask the minority for permission to do much of anything–and besides, House Speaker John Boehner has consistently preferred the Senate go first on legislation.

This state of affairs is especially true on immigration, where we have heard endlessly about both parties’ Senate strategies and the House GOP’s competing approaches. But in fact the House Democrats seem to want immigration reform to pass, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reports on their latest strategic maneuvers to force a vote either on the Senate bill or a near-identical piece of legislation:

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Because of the current division of power in Washington, the one group that goes mostly ignored in coverage of legislative fights is the House Democratic caucus. Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, but have enough seats to force bipartisan compromise for anything to pass. The GOP controls the House, which doesn’t have to ask the minority for permission to do much of anything–and besides, House Speaker John Boehner has consistently preferred the Senate go first on legislation.

This state of affairs is especially true on immigration, where we have heard endlessly about both parties’ Senate strategies and the House GOP’s competing approaches. But in fact the House Democrats seem to want immigration reform to pass, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reports on their latest strategic maneuvers to force a vote either on the Senate bill or a near-identical piece of legislation:

At the center of the internal debate is Nancy Pelosi and the question of whether Democrats will file a so-called “discharge petition” for the Senate immigration bill. If a discharge petition were signed by a majority in the House, the measure would get a full floor vote….

A House Democratic leadership aide tells me no decision has been made on whether to proceed with the petition. According to people familiar with the situation, it’s provoking opposition among some Dems on the House “gang of seven,” who fear it could give Republicans in the “gang” an excuse to walk away from an emerging compromise that may be the best hope for anything approaching a comprehensive bill in the House. Some Dems in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and some Dems in border districts also are cool to the idea, because they object to the Senate bill’s huge border security buildup. They would prefer to stake their chances on the possibility of a bipartisan House bill or on conference negotiations designed to reconcile the Senate bill with whatever the House passes.

The latter group of Democrats faces long odds, I would think. It will be a heavy lift for the House GOP leadership to get the Senate (or an identical) bill through, but the only chance of passing something like that out of the House is by placating conservatives’ desire to prioritize border security. Democrats who want to pass a version of the Senate bill without the border security measures are deluding themselves.

Additionally, there is no strategy that would be less of a surprise than the attempt to pass something out of the House and then reconcile the bills in conference. Conservatives expect that option to be on the table the whole time, which is why many are opposed to passing any large piece of legislation that could come out of conference negotiations having been pulled significantly to the left.

The truth is that the great hope for comprehensive immigration reform in the House that would include a path to citizenship for those already here has more to do with a later post from Sargent, in which he writes of the apparent lack of anti-“amnesty” outrage, thus far, at GOP town halls. I wrote about this last week, noting that the congressional recess period is going to give representatives a chance to take the temperature of their districts’ attitudes toward immigration reform. Much of this, however, comes down to interpretation. What if the recess goes quietly? At the Washington Examiner, Byron York and Conn Carroll give dueling analyses. Here’s York:

If August goes quietly on the immigration front, some Republican lawmakers may return to Washington with the sense that voters back home don’t really mind that immigration reform goes forward. And then it will.

Will it? Here’s Carroll:

If Republican town halls go smoothly this summer and Republicans do not feel any heat from their constituents on the issue, amnesty is all but guaranteed to die a slow death by irrelevance this fall.

This is a good example of why there’s so much concentration on reading tealeaves. Boehner’s strategy is predicated on the notion that an outpouring of public opposition in Republicans’ home districts over the summer recess will not only doom immigration reform but make Republicans look furiously anti-immigrant in the process. (This is exactly what happened last time, in 2006-2007.) So he has decided not to craft a bill, thinking that this will deprive opponents of a target.

He’s right about that. But the plan may be too clever by half: there is no real way to test public opinion without an actual bill. That means Republican members of the House may come back from recess having no idea what many of their constituents actually think about a piece of legislation that, after all, doesn’t exist yet. Those Republicans may be inclined to leave well enough alone, in which case Boehner’s attempt to save immigration reform will backfire.

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