The Bouncing Boehner Blues (Monkeydelica Mix)

Don’t let the hug and kiss between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) at the first session of the 114th Congress fool you. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Follow the bouncing ball: Despite looking much like other failures of John Boehner’s leadership, what happened with the recent DHS standoff is actually rather quite rare, and even still in comparison to the rarity of the frequency with which the Speaker of the House absolutely botches his job.

Close enough.

Jeffery A. Jenkins, in explaining how that works for the Washington Post, brings what for most of us is a vocabulary lesson:

Boehner’s ongoing struggle with the conservative wing of his caucus is well known. But Friday’s vote was unusual. In fact, it almost never happens. Here’s why.

During his time as Speaker, several majority party failures have occurred, as Boehner has ignored the informal “Hastert Rule” and allowed legislation to go forward when he didn’t have a majority of GOP support. This resulted in what is known as a “roll” — when a majority of the majority party opposes a bill that ends up passing. Notable examples of rolls since the beginning of 2013 have included the revision and extension of Bush-era tax cuts (bundled into the “fiscal cliff” deal), Hurricane Sandy Relief, and the Violence Against Women Act. These examples have been written about extensively. Rolls also feature prominently in political science scholarship, such as the book “Setting the Agenda” by Gary Cox and Mathew McCubbins.

In ignoring the Hastert Rule, Boehner bucked conservative opposition and relied upon Democratic support to pass legislation – which hurt his reputation as a party leader in the short run but preserved (in his estimation) the overall Republican brand name in the longer run.

But what happened Friday was different. It wasn’t a roll, but what we might call a “disappointment.” That is, Boehner had the support of a majority of his majority, but the bill ended up failing. This was because he lost more than 50 members of his caucus and was unable to corral more than a handful of Democrats to help pass the legislation.

Perhaps this is an occasion to make the pedantic point about the state of civics education in these United States. In order to be fascinated by Jenkins’ subsequent discussion of disappointments―he and colleagues Andrew Clarke and Nathan Monroe have apparently figured out that they are “extremely rare”―one must first comprehend the basic components; most are out of their depth well before they ever get to learning what a roll is. That such occasions are remotely significant? Well, that is complicated, or something, so why can’t the oppositional politicians we all voted for just get along?

Considering the spectacle FOX News can put on with its polling, one wonders who would complain of a push if Gallup or Pew surveyed Americans on whether they would really, truly like John Boehner if he was the Worst Speaker of the House Ever.

Jenkins is another who stirs the question of Boehner’s future as Speaker, but perhaps the logical failure there has something to do with the subtlety of the power of the disappointment observation and the question not so much whether it is or is not, but, rather, just how laughable is the proposition that the House Republican Caucus could operate at so subtle a valence.

Jenkins’ colleague at the WaPo Monkey Cage, Matthew Green runs some ideas under a benign enough headline that even has some reason to sound relevant, “Boehner’s problem isn’t just House Republicans. It’s House Democrats, too.” It is one of those strange analyses that really does seem hell-bent on finding a reason to equivocate:

There is no doubt that the internal divisions of the House GOP are substantial and consequential, and they are likely to cause party leaders more headaches in the months ahead. But if governing continues to be a challenge for the majority Republicans, we shouldn’t forget to credit — or, depending on your point of view, blame — the minority Democrats, too.

It nearly reeks of Von Clausewitz: The Republican dysfunction is the fault of Democrats because Democrats won’t give Republicans everything they want.

Just like all wars are started by defenders.

But let us consider: If House Republicans had not failed to pass their own bill last year, then they would not be in the hole they dug for themselves. Furthermore, it really does seem somewhat uncouth to be pitching this fit about President Obama exercising his executive authority when, after House Republicans failed to pass their own bill last year, Speaker Boehner publicly told the president to use his executive authority.

It is not so much that Green’s analysis is terrible. Rather, his conclusion seems entirely non sequitur.

Still, though, in addition to the mess the Distinguished Gentleman from Ohio’s Eighth has created in the House, there is also that nagging question about why such analyses as WaPo’s caged monkeys might offer should seem even slightly obscure. The thing is that even when they’re mugging for the cameras such that your mother might actually call the kissy-faced Speaker of the House names, it’s all still according to identifiable customs and rituals. Judging reality television is one thing, but that is not what we are watching.


Image note: Undated photograph of House Speaker John Boehner greeting Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi during the 114th Congress. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Jenkins, Jeffrey A. “Boehner’s defeat was actually really unusual. Here’s why.” The Washington Post. 28 February 2015.

Green, Matthew. “Boehner’s problem isn’t just House Republicans. It’s House Democrats, too.” The Washington Post. 2 March 2015.

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