House Majority Leadership

The Republican Way

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

This is the picture:

For several years, much of the political establishment has fiercely resisted the idea that congressional Republicans have been radicalized. A wide variety of Beltway pundits and insiders have even blamed President Obama for not successfully compromising and striking deals with the radicalized GOP – if only the president would lead like a leading leader, Republicans would transform into constructive, mainstream policymakers. This is a problem, we’ve been told repeatedly, that schmoozing can solve.

The lazy punditry was wrong. Since early 2011, legislative productivity has reached depths without modern precedent. The list of major legislative accomplishments is effectively empty. Bills have routinely been brought to the floor for passage, only to have the GOP leadership discover their own members are defying their own party’s legislative priorities.

Under Republican leadership – or what passes for “leadership” in 2015 – the legislative branch has careened between hostage standoffs and self-imposed crises, over and over again, to the point that some have begun to see these ridiculous circumstances, never before seen in the American tradition, as the new normal.

And now, House Republicans can’t even elect their own Speaker.

Steve Benen also reminds, “What political observers should not do, however, is consider this a new development. It’s not.” And this is important.

Because these are Congressional Republicans. This is the Party that reminds over and over that government just doesn’t work. And they have a point: Government just doesn’t work when Republicans are in charge.

Nor does equivocation bring any good. For all the cynicism we hear about how the parties are the same, and Democrats do it, too, this is not a circumstance in which such pathetic, mewling excuses in lieu of excuses should find any traction. No, really, this is Republicans so botching up that the Worst Speaker of the House in American history can’t even resign properly; this is a purely Republican problem. And on its face, given the farce playing out before our eyes, anyone who tries to tell you both parties do it, or Democrats do it too, or they’re all the same, isn’t simply drowning in cynicism, but, rather trying to lie to you as they go down for the third time. It is uncertain what rescue method would actually succeed if pride so compels them to deny they have fallen overboard.

This is the Republican Party.

This is your United States House of Representatives.

This is what governance looks like when entrusted to conservatives who posture a vested interest in government dysfunction.

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Image note: The statue of Grief and History stands in front of the U.S. Capitol Dome in Washington October 16, 2013. The Senate prepared a last ditch effort on Wednesday to avoid a historic lapse in the government’s borrowing authority, a breach that President Barack Obama has said could lead to default and deliver a damaging blow to the global economy. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Benen, Steve. “GOP finds itself lacking leadership, direction, and purpose”. msnbc. 9 October 2015.

Actually Rather Quite Unexpected (McCarthy Meltdown Mix)

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., pauses as he speaks about foreign policy during the John Hay Initiative, Monday, Sept. 28,2015, at a hotel in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

And then there is this:

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has dropped out of elections for House Speaker, shocking Capitol Hill and raising questions about who can possibly lead the House Republican conference.

(Wong)

Right. Good luck. We’ll try to figure this out as it progresses.

If it’s Thursday, this must be your United States House of Representatives.

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Image Note House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., pauses as he speaks about foreign policy during the John Hay Initiative, Monday 28 September 2015, in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Wong, Scott. “Shock! McCarthy drops from Speaker’s race”. The Hill. 8 October 2015.

The House Freedom Caucus (Feature the Bug Bass Beat Mix)

U.S. Capitol building at dusk on a winter's eve. (Photo credit: Peterson)

Here is a strange proposition: The Trump effect, currently plaguing the 2016 GOP presidential nomination contest, is a feature, not a bug.

While the notion of sucking up all the oxygen is certainly evident as Republican candidates struggle for breath, consider for a moment that there is also a Democratic contest afoot. To the other, all we really hear about it is a string of scandal stories about Hillary Clinton, and how many people turn out for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

And, of course, any time we might lead with a joke like, What do Kim Davis and Donald Trump have in common? we might rest assured that our uneasiness is genuine because things really have gotten that far out of hand.

The question of the hour:

Barring a historic meltdown, Republicans will select Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to be their nominee for speaker Thursday. But does that mean McCarthy will get 218 votes in the House floor vote on Oct. 29?

(Fuller)

Meanwhile, House Democrats aren’t exactly sitting back and watching, but nobody should feel badly for thinking otherwise. There is plenty of intrigue to go around, but the drama in the House of Representatives is exclusively Republican.

(more…)

The Ted Cruz Show (Speaking of the House)

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, prepares to address the Faith & Freedom Coalitions Road to Majority conference which featured speeches by conservative politicians at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, June 18, 2015. (Photo: Tom Williams/GQ Roll Call/Getty)

True, these are nine paragraphs from Steve Benen, but they’re short, and worth the moment for reading:

In September 2013, just eight months into his congressional career, Cruz strategized with House Republicans privately. GOP lawmakers shut down the government a few days later.

In October 2013, Cruz met again with House Republicans about their shutdown gambit.

In April 2014, Cruz hosted a chat with House Republicans about strategy on immigration reform. A bipartisan reform bill died in the chamber soon after.

In June 2014, on the same day as the election of the current House GOP leadership team, Cruz met again with a group of House Republicans.

In July 2014, Cruz huddled with House Republicans, who took his advice, ignored their party’s leadership, and derailed a GOP border bill.

A week later, also in July 2014, they met again, this time as members were getting ready for their August break.

In December 2014, with Congress facing a funding deadline, Cruz huddled again with House Republicans.

In September 2015, Cruz met privately with a group of House Republicans once more as the party weighed another government-shutdown plan.

And today, with House Republicans poised to choose a new Speaker, there’s Ted Cruz hanging out with House Republicans.

The Tortilla Coast Junta would appear to be in effect.

Stay tuned.

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Image note: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, prepares to address the Faith & Freedom Coalition Road to Majority conference which featured speeches by conservative politicians at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, June 18, 2015. (Photo: Tom Williams/GQ Roll Call/Getty)

Benen, Steve. “Cruz huddles with House Republicans on eve of Speaker vote”. msnbc. 7 October 2015.

Regular Chaos

U.S. Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R/UT-03), left, and Daniel Webster (R/FL-10). in detail of frame from msnbc, 6 October 2015.

“The job of the Speaker of the House is not to preside over regular order. The Speaker’s job is to expedite the will of the majority party, to keep the trains running on time and to otherwise protect the prerogatives and the power of the House of Representatives.”

John Feehery

John Feehery is of the sort whose conservative credentials should not be dismissed lightly, though in the contemporary GOP that would put the Republican strategist and former aide to then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL14) squarely within the establishment wing of the Party. And he offers up a fine recollection for The Hill about, “The myth of regular order”.

Pay attention:

When Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) became Speaker, he too promised regular order. Indeed, he famously allowed the House to work its will early on in his tenure, in 2011, to have the Rules Committee allow members to offer countless amendments to spending bills, to give his members more access to the levers of power.

But the conflict between the will of the majority of the House and the majority of his majority became untenable. A clear majority — including the Speaker — wanted action on a comprehensive immigration bill, but his Republican Conference did not. A clear majority wanted to lift the budget caps, but a majority of his majority did not. A clear majority in the House did not want the government to shut down, but his conference clearly thought that shutting it down was a necessary exercise in a battle of wills with President Obama.

We might take a moment for his generosity, of course, on that last, which might well have been an exercise in cynically letting the backbenchers charge the enemy guns because they’re too stupid not to, and this isn’t the day to force a no-confidence vote.

(more…)

The Floor Show

The U.S. Capitol is pictured at dawn in Washington D.C. on Oct. 15, 2013. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

Really:

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA23), then House Majority Leader, in 2014. (Original photo by Molly Riley)House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s message to dozens of House conservatives was succinct: “I’m not John Boehner.”

McCarthy (R-Calif.) has been desperately trying to distance himself from Boehner (R-Ohio), the man he wants to replace as Speaker of the House. His latest attempt came Tuesday night as he made his pitch to a dozens of conservative lawmakers at the Capitol Hill Club.

“I’m not John Boehner. I’m going to run things differently. I’m my own man,” McCarthy said, according to one conservative in the room, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas).

(Wong)

It really is something of a dangerous phrase for Republicans, purporting to be one’s own man. One would think Jeb Bush would offer enough examples to make the point, but this is Kevin McCarthy.

(more…)

Boehner’s Last Stand

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH8)

Well, you know. Because:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT03), circa July 2014.  Uncredited photo via The Hill.House GOP leadership races took new twists and turns on Monday, just days before rank-and-file Republicans head behind closed doors to pick the next Speaker.

Outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) postponed elections for majority leader and whip at the behest of conservatives who argued that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) might lose the Speaker’s race and end up keeping his current job.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) held court with reporters for nearly an hour, capping a three-day media blitz to promote his underdog bid for Speaker.

(Wong)

No, really. What about this isn’t Classic … Speaker … Boehner?

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Wong, Scott. “Fresh twists roil House GOP races”. The Hill. 5 October 2015.

The Ruckus on the Hill

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA23), speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Monday, 25 February 2013. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty.)

“This is serious. McCarthy’s words matter in his current leadership position in the House and will matter even more if he is elected as speaker. He needs to raise his game, collect his thoughts, be very sure-footed and display some measured, informed and thoughtful leadership. In the weeks ahead, he will be called on to explain his worldview and you can bet our allies and our enemies will be watching. Republicans need to be sure we are introducing a new serious actor onto a very troubled world stage. Now is not a good time for verbal bumbling or embarrassing ignorance.”

Ed Rogers

To the one, Ed Rogers is not exactly a proverbial Rino; his right-wing bona fides are well established.

To the other, that’s the point; there are already conservative challenges afoot, including House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT03), fresh off his magical mystery tour aboard the S.S. Colonoscopy, an extraneous metaphor, since he managed a self-exam earlier in the week, but, hey, why not follow up a monumental clusterdiddle with a run for the Speaker’s gavel?

Ed Rogers of BGR Group, in undated photo; credit unknown.And to a third, regardless of where the challenge is coming from, they do have a point. The effect of the would-be Speaker in Waiting’s poor oral discipline has been devastating. Republicans already gamble on a do-nothing Congress; they do not, as Mr. Rogers notes, have any real need for that institution’s equivalent of an old-tyme geek show.

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Image notes: Top ― House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA23), speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Monday, 25 February 2013. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty.) Right ― Ed Rogers of BGR Group, in undated photo. (Credit unknown.)

Bendery, Jennifer. “Watch Jason Chaffetz React As He’s Accused Of ‘Beating Up On A Woman’ Over Her Pay”. The Huffington Post. 29 September 2015.

Hess, Hannah. “Inspector General Reopens Secret Service Probe of Chaffetz Leak”. Roll Call. 5 October 2015.

Rogers, Ed. “Republicans fret over McCarthy’s skills”. The Washington Post. 2 Octoer 2015.

Becoming a Ritual

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio responds to reporters about the impasse over passing the Homeland Security budget because of Republican efforts to block President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. The House voted last month to end Homeland Security funding on Saturday unless Obama reverses his order to protect millions of immigrants from possible deportation. After Democratic filibusters blocked the bill in the Senate, the chaber's Republican leaders agreed this week to offer a "clean" funding measure, with no immigration strings attached. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Is familiarity a bad thing?

The pieces are now in place for a replay of the GOP’s 2013 shutdown. Cruz is marshaling his House forces; Boehner and his leadership team have no idea how to move forward; and far-right lawmakers have a simple-but-unobtainable goal. The question is whether this time, we should expect a different result.

The beleaguered Speaker told reporters this morning, “The goal here is not to shut down the government. The goal is to stop these horrific practices of organizations selling baby parts.”

As a substantive matter, this is obviously nonsense – “selling baby parts” is illegal, and that’s not at all what Planned Parenthood has done – but as a political matter, is also non-constructive nonsense. If Boehner is serious about averting another GOP-imposed crisis, he probably ought to start being a little more responsible.

Of course, the more responsibly he behaves, the more likely it is the extremists in his conference will try to oust him – so Boehner’s in an unenviable spot.

(Benen)

There was some chatter last month, while Congress was away, in which pundits and analysts wondered whether the GOP would attempt a shutdown. And now that we arrive at this chapter, it seems almost a foolish question: Of course they are.

So here’s the thing: With less than a fortnight’s scheduled legislative through the month of September, Congress has a papal visit slated, as well as routine legislation such as a highway bill and the Export-Import Bank reauthorization that the Republican leadership just can’t seem to accomplish, and the Iran deal, at least, which the House has just broken into three parts in order to do something ostensibly more useful than just making inevitability that much more complicated.

Remember this, as we endure the ascending electoral cycle: When Republicans complain that government just doesn’t work, it would behoove us to check again to make certain it isn’t their own damn fault.

And the results, you know, are starting to look a little too consistent.

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Benen, Steve. “As shutdown deadline draws closer, GOP leaders seem lost”. msnbc. 10 September 2015.

A Presidential Retort

Barack Obama

Last week, President Obama addressed the City Club of Cleveland; he also spoke his mind about a few things having to do with the way of things in Washington:

It’s important to note that at every step that we’ve taken over the past six years we were told our goals were misguided; they were too ambitious; that my administration’s policies would crush jobs and explode deficits, and destroy the economy forever. Remember that? Because sometimes we don’t do the instant replay, we don’t run the tape back, and then we end up having the same argument going forward.

One Republican in Congress warned our policies would diminish employment and diminish stock prices. Diminish stock prices. (Laughter.) The stock market has doubled since I came into office. Corporate profits are―corporate balance sheets are stronger than they have ever been―because of my terrible business policies. (Laughter.)

One Republican senator claimed we faced trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. Another predicted my reelection would spike gas prices to $6.60 a gallon. (Laughter.) I don’t know how he came up with that figure―$6.60. (Laughter.) My opponent in that last election pledged that he could bring down the unemployment rate to 6 percent by 2016―next year―at the end of next year. It’s 5.5 now. (Applause.)

And right here in Cleveland, the leader of the House Republicans―a good friend of mine―(laughter)―he captured his party’s economic theories by critiquing mine with a very simple question: Where are the jobs, he said. Where are the jobs? I’m sure there was a headline in The Plain Dealer or one of the papers―Where Are the Jobs?

Well, after 12 million new jobs, a stock market that has more than doubled, deficits that have been cut by two-thirds, health care inflation at the lowest rate in nearly 50 years, manufacturing coming back, auto industry coming back, clean energy doubled―I’ve come not only to answer that question, but I want to return to the debate that is central to this country, and the alternative economic theory that’s presented by the other side.

Because their theory does not change. It really doesn’t. It’s a theory that says, if we do little more than just cut taxes for those at the very top, if we strip out regulations and let special interests write their own rules, prosperity trickles down to the rest of us. And I take the opposite view. And I take it not for ideological reasons, but for historic reasons, because of the evidence.

Imagine that. Evidence.

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Obama, Barack. “Remarks by the President to the City Club of Cleveland”. The White House. 18 March 2015.