John Boehner

The Elephant in the Ointment

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (left) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI01; center) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., 10 November 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

(sigh) This feels familiar:

Here we go again. President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) say their proposals for repealing and “replacing” the Affordable Care Act will be ready really, really soon. Next month, in fact.

And they swear this won’t be like the other million times Republicans have made the same promise and failed to follow through.

Trump and Ryan made their comments at separate news conferences on Thursday, a few hours apart. Ryan’s came after a closed-door House meeting in which he and his lieutenants presented the broad brushstrokes―again―of what they are calling a “repeal plus” strategy.

(Young and Cohn)

So, a couple things go here. Like a personal note: This was disappointing. When the first chyrons broke, it seemed at least as if everyone was gearing up to finally have it out about the mythical Republican plan. And for at least a few minutes, readers and pundits tried to pretend they were. But that leads to the second, which might have something to do with Congressional Republican leadership, because apparently “repeal plus”, the replacement for “repeal and delay”, which was the longer, lazier route compared to prior advocacy for “repeal and replace”―and we keep getting signs this approach isn’t working―is probably a better name than “repeal and stumble around”.

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The Problem With Republicans (Justice in Waiting)

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks to the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church during their annual convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 July 2016. (Photo: Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

It’s not really a gaffe, is it? It’s an interesting headline from CNN: “John McCain: ‘I don’t know’ if Trump will be better for Supreme Court than Clinton”

Trump has released lists of 21 potential justices. He has pledged to choose from among those 21 when making Supreme Court selections, in a move that has earned him praise from conservatives, including his former rival in the Republican primary, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) listens to testimony by U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Commander and Resolute Support Commander Gen. John Campbell, on Capitol Hill in Washington, 4 February 2016. (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)Asked on the Dom Giordano program on 1210 WPHT Philadelphia radio whether Trump was the superior candidate on issues like the Supreme Court, the Arizona senator replied, “Uh, first of all, I don’t know, because I hear him saying a lot of different things.”

Later in the interview, McCain used the opportunity to make the case for fellow Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who is locked in a close battle to retain his Senate seat in Pennsylvania. McCain promised that Republicans would be “united against any Supreme Court nominee” put forth by Clinton.

“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” McCain said. “I promise you. This is where we need the majority and Pat Toomey is probably as articulate and effective on the floor of the Senate as anyone I have encountered.”

Or, as Taylor Link fashioned the obvious lede for Salon:

Sen. John McCain is sure that if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wins, the Senate will continue to be an obstructionist mess.

In a Monday interview, the senator from Arizona said that Republican nominee Donald Trump is not necessarily a better candidate than Hillary Clinton when it comes to appointing Supreme Court justices and “promised” that Republicans wouldn’t approve any Clinton nominee to the Supreme Court.

Couldn’t see that one coming, eh?

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The Beltway Way (Moneygoround Mix)

Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL15). (Detail of photo by David Banks/Bloomberg)

We get a glimpse into the Beltway moneygoround; Curtis Tate looks into Congressional PAC spending:

The leadership political action committee affiliated with Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois has splurged on Napa Valley wine tours, Miami Beach luxury hotels and Washington Nationals baseball tickets worth tens of thousands of dollars over the past four years, federal campaign disclosures show.

The nine-term Republican represents a coal-producing region of southern Illinois and frequently speaks in defense of fossil fuels as a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But earlier this year, his John S Fund PAC put down a deposit for a fundraising event at a California spa hotel that’s powered by solar panels.

PACs are lightly regulated entities that members of Congress typically use as fundraising tools for their party, but not for their own campaigns.

The McClatchy report notes Rep. Shimkus (R-IL15) is not uncommon: “Most senior lawmakers with PACs spend at least some of the money on perks their salaries don’t cover”, Tate explains. Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics calls the PACs “a nice little piggybank to have”, explaining, “There are so few restrictions on how you can use it.”

The thing is that the story really is just a glimpse; the whole thing sounds sordid but in this framework it is a matter of aesthetics versus law, and the question of how to make these things work just right is pretty much as complicated as any other question of freedom versus civilized society as a suicide pact. That is to say, good luck electing a Congress that will get rid of the things; the Supreme Court is pretty much a wildcard, though we can easily guess it would be something of a stretch to imagine the judiciary banning these practices outright. And, really, just how badly will society and its political institutions fail at not being undignified if we hold a big sit-down in the public discourse and parse out the details of what is or isn’t acceptable?

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The Ryan Budget (Murmur Mix)

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, 16 December 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“When the next Democratic speaker wants to spend $350 billion over ten years to make public colleges tuition-free for undergraduates, the system will turn in knots to make it seem like we’re broke and can’t afford it. But when Speaker Ryan wants $350 billion to help multinational corporations lower their tax burdens, the system will clear the runway as quickly as possible for these vital and necessary investments.”

David T. S. Jonas

Anyone giving even a modicum of attention to the manner in which Congress actually works can understand why the Ryan Budget seems like a fine accomplishment, but it is also, to the one, a “kind of backroom deal that offers real concessions to Democrats and blows up the deficit wasn’t the change insurgent Republicans were looking for when they ousted John Boehner”, Ezra Klein explained; more directly, he continues that in the larger context the lesson is, “No one cares about the deficit―or, at the very least, everyone cares about other priorities more than they care about the deficit.” "If John Boehner made the spending deal Paul Ryan just did, conservatives would’ve called for his head." (Jim Newell, Slate, 16 December 2015) To the other, we might also beg leave to wonder at what Matt Fuller and Jennifer Bendery described as the “massive spending bill that nobody especially likes”. Jim Newell summarizes, “If John Boehner made the spending deal Paul Ryan just did, conservatives would’ve called for his head”.

And there is merit in the idea that nobody is wholly satisfied, but it also says something important that compromise means lowered expectations. Something about competition and partnership goes here.

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Image notes: Top ― House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, 16 December 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Left ― Via Jim Newell of Slate: “If John Boehner made the spending deal Paul Ryan just did, conservatives would’ve called for his head.”

French, Lauren. “Ryan: Budget package a true compromise”. Politico. 15 December 2015.

Fuller, Matt and Jennifer Bendery. “Congress Ready To Pass Massive Spending Bill That Nobody Especially Likes”. The Huffington Post. 16 December 2015.

Jonas, David T. S. “Maybe Rush Limbaugh has a point: Paul Ryan just blew up the deficit, and Democrats are letting him”. Salon. 19 December 2015.

Klein, Ezra. “The big new budget deal, explained”. Vox. 18 December 2015.

Newell, Jim. “The Paul Ryan Compromise”. Slate. 16 December 2015.

The Times Editorial Board. “Ryan shows compromises can be reached in the House without brinkmanship”. 17 December 2015.

Unsurprising Cowardice (Leadership)

The shadow over Congress, and Mitch McConnell.

In February, Republicans said no to an Authorization for Use of Military Force specifically crafted to address Daa’ish because it wasn’t a big enough war. And while Republican presidential candidates might be lining up to take it out on Syrian refugees and Muslims both at home and around the world, the one thing they won’t do, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is grant an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Daa’ish.

“The president obviously feels he has the authority now to do what he’s doing,” McConnell said. “And the discussions with Democrats on AUMF make it clear that the only kind of AUMF they would support is one that would include such micromanagement of the military exercise as how many troops you could have, how long they could stay, and all of this.

“I would not want to saddle the next president with a prescriptive AUMF. We’re going to have a new president a year from now,” McConnell continued. “He or she may have a different view about the way to deal with ISIS and that part of the world. I don’t think we ought to be passing an AUMF as the president exits the stage when he already thinks he has the authority to do what he’s willing to do now.”

(Lesniewski)

This is a weird back and forth; as near as anyone can tell, the Obama administration is operating in the Levantine Theatre under the auspices of the same post-9/11 AUMF that saw President Bush invade Iraq. We are, essentially, living in the time of perpetual warfare authorized fourteen years ago.

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The Fragile House

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, 3 March 2015. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“I was just planning on serving out my tenure as Ways and Means chair and then going, finding out something else to do with my life. I really don’t know how long this is going to last. This wasn’t something I was planning on doing in the first place.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI01)

It has not exactly been the quietest of months in the House of Representatives, but as the new Speaker settles in, we find a teaser for the sequel. Kate Ackley of Roll Call explains:

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, after two weeks on the job, said he has “no idea” how long he may lead the House, committing only to the 14 months left in the current Congress during an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

Paul RyanNo matter the duration of his tenure, the Wisconsin Republican told Scott Pelley of CBS News he is willing to risk losing the job in pursuit of major policy initiatives including tax and entitlement overhauls. The speaker also said in the interview that aired Sunday he and President Barack Obama could find common ground on select issues.

As for his own future, Ryan portrayed an uncertainty that belies his otherwise smooth start in the House’s top job. Given the chaos following Speaker John A. Boehner’s resignation announcement, a short speakership for Ryan could once again embroil the Republican Party.

“I was just planning on serving out my tenure as Ways and Means chair and then going, finding out something else to do with my life,” he said during the interview taped last week in his hometown of Janesville, Wis. “I really don’t know how long this is going to last. This wasn’t something I was planning on doing in the first place.”

This is one of those things. If we don’t make a note of it, we feel stupid when it comes up later. At least now we can say we were warned.

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Ackley, Kate. “Ryan: ‘No Idea’ How Long I’ll Be Speaker”. 218. Roll Call. 15 November 2015.

Serial Metaphorical Murderlust

>The dome of the United States Capitol building, under repair, in 2015.  (Detail of photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“This budget and debt deal is being brokered by a lame duck speaker and a lame duck president. It represents the very worst of Washington―a last minute deal that increases spending and debt under the auspices of fiscal responsibility. If this deal moves forward, it will undermine efforts to unite the party by those promising to advance serious policy reforms.”

Michael A. Needham (Club for Growth)

There comes a point at which conservative true colors shine through. The Club for Growth, of course, is the organization that likes to use murder metaphors to describe government, and enjoys the fantasy of deliberately drowning someone in a bath tub. It is the organization Republicans kneel before, to which they offer up fealty. Just as social conservatives reject the supreme law of the land for their own ad hoc Biblical “doctrine”, so do fiscal conservatives reject the fact that they are elected to government office in favor of murder fantasies and deliberately inflicting deprivation on their fellow human beings because they actually openly loathe and want to destroy the government they ask to serve.

Yeah. Republicans.

It’s a free country.

And, you know, when they succeed in making the former sentence false, Republicans will just blame Democrats, because that’s what they always do; and a significant number of people well enough educated to know better will pretend it’s some manner of fair argument, and many of these will have employment in the press.

At the moment, we can see the rough outline emerging. John T. Bennett of Roll Call reported this morning:

GOP senators highlighted parts of the package meant to offset increased defense and domestic spending as their chief concerns. Their comments were followed by a blistering critique of the deal from the conservative groups Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth.

The problem here is the problem with any Republican action; the underlying principle requires exclusion and deprivation. With the Cult of Grover muttering its incantations and instructions, we can expect its Republican minions to go forth and do the Club for Growth’s bidding like the good little House servants they are. Going forward, we should remember that this is the proposed budget deal; it is exactly the sort of thing that leads to budget standoffs; it will not get President Obama’s signature. The Club for Growth would like to extend this farce as long as possible, because, hey, bawling about who Republicans get to hurt is better than actually governing, and, you know, we should dump this mess onto the incoming Speaker of the House because that would give the Cult a way to inform Mr. Ryan of his proper place in the hierarchy beneath Grover Norquist.

Remember, for conservatives the whole point is to prevent the American government from functioning. This is the first principle of Grover: Government should be weak enough to drown in a bathtub.

No, really, is there a shutdown standoff Republicans can actually resist? This is such an intractable horde that they won’t even let the Speaker of the House resign properly; this is just another opportunity for conservatives to attempt to plunge the government into crisis in order to show us all what it looks like when government just doesn’t work.

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Image note: The dome of the United States Capitol building, under repair, in 2015. (Detail of photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Bennett, John T. “GOP Senators Concerned by ‘Gimmicks’ in Budget Deal”. #WGDB. Roll Call. 27 October 2015.

Congressional Speculation

Congressman Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate, does a sound check during the third day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. Ryan delivered his speech at the convention Wednesday night, 29 August 2012. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“One senior GOP aide familiar with discussions between leadership and the Freedom Caucus used Dante Alighieri’s description of hell in ‘The Divine Comedy’, with its varying concentric circles, to describe the HFC. No candidate will get to the innermost circle. But Ryan could pick off a lot of members on the outer rings.”

Matt Fuller

The upshot here is that the idea of static or patterned chaos, which really does sound somewhat counterintuitive until you do the thing with a triangle and dice, but in this case we mean something yet altogether different: Meet the new chaos; same as the old chaos. House Republicans seem caught up in some sort of loop, waiting for Ryan while trying to deliberately ignore the gigantic question mark they keep glancing aside in hopes of checking.

Matt Fuller of Roll Call explains:

If the HFC, after largely taking credit for pushing out Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and blocking the ascension of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is seen as having scuttled a Ryan speakership, the divide between the ultra-conservative group and the rest of the conference could become even more unmanageable.

Without Ryan, the speaker’s race threatens to turn into a free-for-all. On Tuesday, there were at least a half dozen new names of Republicans quietly testing the water for runs of their own, including a couple of Texans (Reps. Bill Flores and Michael McCaul), the wealthiest man in Congress (Rep. Darrell Issa) and a woman, Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn ....

.... Sources close to Ryan say the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee has no intention of putting up with an insurrection on his right flank. If Ryan agrees to take the speakership, he will tell colleagues he’ll only do it with all of their support. What’s more, he is making no promises about overhauling the process, shaking up the Steering Committee or any of the other concessions being floated by conservatives.

If that’s Ryan’s position, there will almost certainly be Republicans who will oppose him. And then conservatives will have a choice of their own. They can either hold fast to their procedural demands, or they can get on board with a Ryan speakership.

In truth, Mr. Fuller’s running commentary about sources is much more enlightening. After all, Congress is Congress, and reporters are merely human. Every little piece, you know? It’s not just the stories they tell, but also whether or not we are capable of understanding them. In communicative relationships, the burdens of transmission are much more apparent than the obligations of actually being able to receive.

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Image note: Detail of photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Fuller, Matt. “Oh, and another thing I noticed”. Twitter. 13 October 2015.

—————. “Ryan’s Choice and the House Freedom Caucus Fallout”. 218. Roll Call. 13 October 2015.

Required Reading: The Shadow over Columbia

Poor John

As the drama continues on Capitol Hill, there is this from David Hawkings of Roll Call:

Ryan has proven experience in drafting provocative budgetary blueprints, a zeal for shaping innovative tax simplification plans and a solid record as a party fundraiser to go along with all his perceived potential to heal the GOP’s profound internal injuries.

But that seemingly almost impossible task won’t be made an easier by the one gap in his resume that his allies are portraying among his virtues: He has no real experience running the House or attending to the day-to-day needs of his colleagues.

He’s never done the floor leader’s work of managing the legislative calendar or the whip’s job of counting and corralling votes. He’s never been charged with the overall messaging, policy development, campaign strategy and internal GOP organizational tasks that are the purview of the other leaders.

Maybe most notably of all, he’s never gotten his hands dirty in what’s euphemistically dubbed “member services” — the catchall work of mediating petty turf wars, granting oddball VIP favors, providing late-night sustenance, refereeing travel requests, finding extra office space, bird-dogging personal behavior and intervening to prevent ethical transgressions.

Most of those high-risk and concertedly below-the-radar thankless tasks get performed by the floor leaders and whips, which helps explain why all but one speaker since World War II was previously in one or both jobs for at least a combined five years. And the exception, Republican J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, was a serious practitioner of the member services dark arts as the appointed chief deputy whip for four years.

Now, go read the rest of it. And remember, if you read Roll Call and The Hill, you don’t need cable news.

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Fuller, Matt. “Speaker Election Delay Stirs Conservative Anger”. 218. Roll Call. 9 October 2015.

Hawkings, David. “Next Speaker Unlikely to Continue Long String of Leadership Insiders”. Hawkings Here. Roll Call. 10 October 2015.

Lillis, Mike. “Top GOP strategist: House leadership turmoil ‘a good thing'”. The Hill. 10 October 2015.

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.