Worst Speaker Ever

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.

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Accursed Extraneity

Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC04), chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi Conspiracy Theories. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP).

There are, of course, partisan considerations, but still, this stands out:

Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, hit back Sunday at a former committee staffer who said he was fired for not cooperating with the panel’s focus on former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s actions in response to the 2012 terrorist attack.

“Until his Friday conversations with media, this staffer has never mentioned Secretary Clinton as a cause of his termination, and he did not cite Clinton’s name in a legally mandated mediation,” the South Carolina Republican said in a written statement. “He also has not produced documentary proof that in the time before his termination he was directed to focus on Clinton.”

(Roll Call)

Okay, look, there is obviously a lot going on with the House Benghazi farce, but Gowdy might have overplayed his hand.

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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.

House Boehn

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.

Over the years, one constant is that American conservatives have some of the best potential to actually, genuinely surprise me. In a way, this is predictable; if we suggest it is not simply the positions they hold―e.g., a diverse range of prioritized supremacism―but also the severity and desperation, it only makes sense that it would be conservatives offending me, as there are very few liberal advocates of white, Christian, male, heterosexual supremacism. That sort of thing.

But it happens in other ways, too. Imagine an accurate description of George W. Bush’s presidency, offered as a prognostication the night he was elected. And think of it this way, too―it’s not just the wars. Consider: Vice President Cheney will craft energy policy in secret meetings with people who wreck the energy industry, and then claim executive privilege to hide that record from public scrutiny until it is time to surrender those materials to the National Archives, whereupon he will claim to be part of the Legislative branch of government. Back then, it would have seemed a wild claim. Not that a vice president would hold secret policy meetings and try to hide the record, but to suggest Mr. Cheney would be so damnably stupid as to hide behind executive privilege and then claim to not be part of the executive branch―both claims regarding the same issue―would have seemed an insulting condemnation of his character and intellect alike.

Then again, by the time the Bush/Cheney administration was finished, nothing really seemed surprising, did it?

What about the Speakership of John Boehner?

When he took the gavel, would any of us have imagined this end? What would it have sounded like to predict the worst speakership in the history of the nation? What would people have said of purported clairvoyance spinning tales of such incredible incompetence? Here, try this one: No, we don’t want the President to use his executive authority on immigration; I have a bill. No, we can’t pass our bill; I guess the President will have to use his executive authority. No, the President should not have used his executive authority; we will find a way to sue him in order to stop him.α

How about Tuesday?

No, really, I made a joke. It wasn’t a good joke; it was an obvious joke about a House Republican Conference so fractious and intractable that the Speaker of the House could not actually manage to do anything useful. And it is a House Republican Conference so fractious and intractable that we now get to find out whether or not Speaker Boehner is capable of merely resigning properly.

Boehner said in a statement that he’ll continue to serve as speaker until the House selects someone to replace him. “We will announce the date for this election at a later date, and I’m confident we will elect a new Speaker in the coming weeks. Our conference will work together to ensure we have the strongest team possible as we continue to focus on the American people’s priorities,” said the Ohio lawmaker.

(Frumin)

This is really happening.

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α And we’re still waiting for the lawsuit, as I recall.

Frumin, Aliyah. “Kevin McCarthy abruptly drops House speaker bid, race postponed”. msnbc. 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.

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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.

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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?

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An Inevitable Point

Detail of cartoon by Lalo Alcaraz, 4 March 2015, via Daily Kos Comics.“Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu not only addressed his GOP Congress, but also seems to be an ideal GOP candidate: He loves to bomb the Middle East, he will do anything to win an election, and enjoys meddling in other countries affairs!”

Lalo Alcaraz

Inevitable, yes, but it is also arguable that Congressional Republicans have more respect for the Israeli Prime Minister than their own Speaker.

Just sayin’.

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Image note: Detail of cartoon by Lalo Alcaraz, 4 March 2015, via Daily Kos Comics.

Futility (Boehner Repeat Rehash Remix)

Don't ask me, I'm just the Speaker of the Fucking House

“He’s never wanted to just be speaker. He’s wanted to be a historically significant speaker.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK04)

It seemed a strange enough thing to say at the time. Consider that John Boehner’s historical significance as Speaker of the House might well be that he is the worst Speaker in history, at least until another Republican holds the job. Mr. Cole spoke of his friend and colleague just last November; Republicans had won a bicameral majority, and the article from Carle Hulse and Jeremy W. Peters is significant to this moment, opening:

John A. Boehner does not want to be remembered as the Shutdown Speaker.

As Congress returns from recess on Monday facing a Dec. 11 deadline for funding the government, Mr. Boehner and his fellow Republican leaders are working to persuade the rank and file — furious over President Obama’s executive action on immigration — that engaging in a spending confrontation is the wrong way to counter the White House. That would set the wrong tone, they argue, as Republicans prepare to take over Congress and fulfill promises to govern responsibly.

And, well, as matters of House leadership go, kicking the can so we can do this for another week works, but the question of tone and avoiding a spending confrontation over immigration worked out just about as well as you might expect.

That is to say, Nancy Pelosi bailed Mr. Boehner out, and all she really gets in exchange is to do this again later this week.

And all of this leading to Josh Hicks’ headline today explaining “Why a DHS shutdown won’t stop Obama’s immigration orders”.

While Boehner’s allies in the House explain, as Jesse Byrnes reported yesterday, that the Speaker’s job is not in jeopardy, it’s worth noting that when Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH04) “repeatedly denied” the prospect of an ouster, it would seem someone was asking him directly.

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The Worst Speaker of the House of Representatives Ever

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

Ladies and gentlemen, the worst Speaker of the House of Representatives ever:

CNN’s Dana Bash asked Boehner whether he is concerned that, if he passes a Homeland Security bill without the immigration provisions, “it will be the end of your speakership.”

Unredited photo of Speaker of the House John Boehner.“I’m waiting for the Senate to act,” Boehner replied.

Bash persisted: But was he concerned about a rebellion in his own ranks?

“I’m waiting for the Senate to pass a bill.”

NBC’s Luke Russert asked him why he hadn’t spoken with his Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in two weeks.

Boehner reiterated his position that “we’re waiting for the Senate to act.”

Politico’s Jake Sherman asked what he thought about the merits of McConnell’s plan to split the immigration issue from the funding of DHS.

“I’m waiting for the Senate to pass a bill,” Boehner repeated.

Will Congress avoid a government shutdown?

“I’m waiting for the Senate to act.”

Boehner began to walk away. “Do you think the Senate should act?” Bash teased.

The speaker gave a brave smile.

Yet perhaps the funniest line in Dana Milbank’s column goes to the author himself: “So the House speaker is leading from behind.”

This is more a convention of politics than anything else, a stab at Republican rhetoric about President Obama leading from the front or back in various crises domestic and international.

After all, nobody can justly call Boehner’s approach “leadership”.

And perhaps it is worth noting that the headline, “John Boehner, waiting for the punch” appears to be a second choice. Observing the online version address, it would seem the original headline was, “John Boehner is a spectator at his own hanging”.

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Milbank, Dana. “John Boehner, waiting for the punch”. The Washington Post. 25 February 2015.