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“Hey, Boehner; Show Some Stones For Once”: The Right Wing Is Toothless And Congress Is Essentially Leaderless

So here’s something I’ve often wondered over the last few years. What exactly would happen if John Boehner bucked the right-wingers in the House? You know—if he gave us one of those heroic Hollywood moments that we so long for in this sail-trimming city and gave a big speech about how he was putting principle ahead of politics and the consequences be damned.

You know what I think would happen? If, say, he followed Mitch McConnell’s lead and allowed a vote on a clean DHS-funding bill? After all the dust settled—nothing. Oh, the dust would fly to the heavens for a few days. Tea Partiers would scream about his betrayal. Rush Limbaugh and all the rest of them would fulminate. There’d be a few breathless stories about how his speakership was in mortal peril. And then, something else would happen in the news cycle, the intoxicating effect of the drug of munity would wear off, and we’d be back to exactly where we were before the dust went skyward.

We have a dysfunctional legislative system, and one of the hallmarks of a dysfunctional system—indeed the main hallmark of a dysfunctional system—is that no one is held accountable for anything they do. And there’s no reason to think Boehner would be held accountable by his right wing.

First of all, they don’t have the votes to oust him. In his last speakership election, 25 Republicans voted against him. That’s a chunk, but it’s a small chunk. And besides, who are they going to replace him with? Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who seems not able to count noses and who isn’t particularly well liked by his GOP colleagues? Majority Whip Steve Scalise, now branded as a white-supremacist sympathizer? One doesn’t expect much of today’s GOP, but I doubt very much that even this hardened assemblage would want to be led by a man with that charge hanging around his neck.

So the whole business is ridiculous. And in fact, if you look closely at the record, you see that Boehner has bucked his right wing. Although “bucked” isn’t really the right word, since to buck means to resist with some show of strength. Boehner never does that. What he does is that he hews to the right-wing line rhetorically for as long as he possibly can, and then, when it’s two minutes til midnight and it’s obvious to everyone that he has to bend, he bends. He did it on the debt ceiling. He does it on budget questions. And there’s always a great deal of sturm and drang, but soon enough, it’s back to business.

Think here about the famous Hastert Rule, that a Republican leader can’t bring anything to the floor that doesn’t have the support of a majority of the Republican majority. This has come up a number of times in the last four years, and always the line is: Oh my God, he can’t break the Hastert Rule! Dare he break the Hastert Rule? His speakership is in grave jeopardy if he breaks the Hastert Rule! No, Lord, not the Hastert Rule!!

Well, he’s broken the Hastert Rule three times. The first time was on the fiscal cliff negotiation at the beginning of 2013. On that one, 85 House Republicans voted for the compromise bill that emerged, and 151 of them voted against it. The second time was on Hurricane Sandy relief, which happened just a couple of weeks after the fiscal cliff vote. That time, 49 GOPers voted for the relief, and 179 against. And the third came a little more than a month later—two years ago tomorrow, in fact—when the House passed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. That time, 87 Republicans voted aye, and 138 nay.

So look at that record. In two months’ time, Boehner violated the allegedly inviolate Hastert Rule three times. And what happened to him? Well, we’re still calling him Mr. Speaker, last I checked. The right wing has not mutinied. And in fact the dark little psychological secret is that the vast majority of them have no interest whatsoever in mutiny. It’s far better for business for them, back in the home districts, to be able to scream betrayal and present themselves to their rabid constituents, the kind who just might go organize themselves to find a primary challenger to run against them, as the true defenders of liberty against all the sell-outs and ideological harlots they have to contend with on a daily basis, Boehner included. Gower Champion couldn’t choreograph it any better.

If I’m right about all this, and I am, then the question is why Boehner can’t, just once, show some stones and say, at 10 or 15 minutes til midnight rather than the usual two, “Sorry, we’re gonna do the reasonable thing here, and save this other fight for another day?” Well, some have argued that it may be in this case that he doesn’t actually know whether he has the votes. But I think that’s a reach. He’s got 245 Republicans. There are 188 Democrats, presumably all of whom would vote for a clean bill. So he’d need about 30 Republicans to back a clean bill. If he can’t get a mere 15 percent of his caucus to vote for a clean bill, maybe he’s got no business being speaker anyway. That would mean breaking the Hastert Rule, but as we’ve seen, he’s paid no price for that in the past.

And look at what happened in the Senate after McConnell decided to be reasonable. The vote was 98-2! The holdouts were Jim Inhofe and Jeff Sessions. Ted Cruz voted for the clean bill! Mike Lee! Joni Ernst and all the new red-hots. McConnell called the radicals’ bluff, and they folded. I say there’s every reason to think that roughly the same thing would happen in the House.

It’s often said in Washington that Congress is held captive to the hard right. But that’s not it. Boehner could break that hold if he wanted to. So it’s not really the radicals who are to blame, but Boehner’s refusal to be their leader and tell them “this is the way it is.” That’s the one thing, as their leader, he’ll never do. You know—lead.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 27, 2015

March 1, 2015 Posted by | Dept of Homeland Security, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rand Paul Remains Preoccupied With Bill Clinton”: Beware Of Those Who Protest Too Much

Nearly two weeks ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) decided to go after former President Bill Clinton, focusing on the Lewinsky affair from 19 years ago. The former president, Paul said, was guilty of “predatory behavior.” He added that this would be relevant if Hillary Clinton runs in 2016 because “sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”

Asked later about the comments, Paul suggested that Clinton isn’t really on his mind. “It’s not as if I’m bringing this up 20 years later. I was asked a direct question,” the Kentucky senator said. “However, if I’m asked a direct question, I’ll usually answer it.”

For a guy who only mentioned Clinton because he was “asked a direct question,” Rand Paul seems oddly preoccupied with the former president.

The senator’s original criticism came on “Meet the Press” on Jan. 26. Paul then took another rhetorical shot at Clinton on Jan. 28. And then another on Jan. 29. And then another on Feb. 5. And then again later on Feb. 5.

This morning, there was the Kentucky Republican, once again talking about the subject he only reluctantly broached in the first place.

“[Democrats] can’t have it both ways,” Paul said on C-Span’s “Newsmakers” set to air Sunday.

“And so I really think that anybody who wants to take money from Bill Clinton or have a fundraiser has a lot of explaining to do. In fact, I think they should give the money back,” Paul said. “If they want to take position on women’s rights, by all means do. But you can’t do it and take it from a guy who was using his position of authority to take advantage of young women in the workplace.”

This is getting a little weird.

To reiterate a point from last week, much of this likely has to do with 2016 and Paul’s concern that Bill Clinton remains a very popular national figure. Indeed, even Republicans who hated Clinton with a passion during his time in office – up to and including impeaching him – have since decided he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Robert Schlesinger labeled the phenomenon “Clinton Nostalgia Syndrome.”

The senator is no doubt aware of this, all while remaining cognizant of the fact that Hillary Clinton is a possible candidate. The calculus isn’t subtle: Rand Paul is probably worried that Clinton nostalgia will make the former Secretary of State that much more difficult to defeat. As a consequence, he’s become oddly preoccupied with a sex scandal from the mid-90s, which the American mainstream has long since given up caring about.

But I also wonder if there’s a touch of defensiveness lurking just below the surface. After all, Paul not only supports government intervention in restricting reproductive rights, he’s also voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Violence Against Women Act, while voting for the Blunt Amendment on contraception.

With a record like that, the senator may be understandably concerned about alienating women voters. I’m not a political strategist, but I don’t imagine constant complaining about Bill Clinton will address Paul’s underlying trouble.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 7, 2014

February 9, 2014 Posted by | Rand Paul, War On Women | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“You Need This Mr. Speaker”: How To Make John Boehner Cave On Immigration

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) generally adheres to the unwritten Republican rule that bars him from allowing votes on bills opposed by a majority of Republicans, even if they would win a majority of the full House.

But he’s caved four times this year, allowing big bills to pass with mainly Democratic support. They include repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans; providing Hurricane Sandy relief; expanding the Violence Against Women act to better cover immigrants, Native Americans, and LGBT survivors of abuse; and this week’s bill raising the debt limit and reopening the federal government.

Many presume the Republican House is a black hole sucking President Obama’s second-term agenda into oblivion. But the list of Boehner’s past retreats offers a glimmer of hope, especially to advocates of immigration reform. Though it has languished in the House, an immigration overhaul passed with bipartisan support in the Senate, and was given a fresh push by Obama in the aftermath of the debt limit deal.

The big mystery that immigration advocates need to figure out: What makes Boehner cave? Is there a common thread? Is there a sequence of buttons you can push that forces Boehner to relent?

Two of this year’s caves happened when Boehner was backed up against hard deadlines: The Jan. 1 fiscal cliff and the Oct. 17 debt limit. Failure to concede meant immediate disaster. Reject the bipartisan compromise on rolling back the Bush tax cuts, get blamed for jacking up taxes on every taxpayer. Reject the Senate’s three-month suspension of the debt limit, get blamed for sparking a global depression. Boehner held out until the absolute last minute both times, but he was not willing to risk blowing the deadline.

A third involved the response to an emergency: Hurricane Sandy. Conservative groups were determined to block disaster relief because — as with other federal disaster responses — the $51 billion legislative aid package did not include offsetting spending cuts. Lacking Republican votes, Boehner briefly withdrew the bill from consideration, unleashing fury from New York and New Jersey Republicans, including Gov. Chris Christie. While there wasn’t a hard deadline to meet, disaster relief was a time-sensitive matter, and the pressure from Christie and his allies was unrelenting. Two weeks after pulling the bill, Boehner put it on the floor, allowing it to pass over the objections of 179 Republicans.

The fourth cave occurred in order to further reform and expand a government program: The Violence Against Women Act. The prior version of the law had been expired for over a year, as conservatives in the House resisted the Senate bill in the run-up to the 2012 election. But after Mitt Romney suffered an 18-point gender gap in his loss to Obama, and after the new Senate passed its version again with a strong bipartisan vote, Boehner was unwilling to resist any longer. Two weeks later, the House passed the Senate bill with 138 Republicans opposed.

Unfortunately for immigration advocates, there is no prospect of widespread pain if reform isn’t passed. There is no immediate emergency, nor threat of economic collapse.

But there is a deadline of sorts: The 2014 midterm elections.

If we’ve learned anything about Boehner this month, it’s that he’s a party man to the bone. He dragged out the shutdown and debt limit drama for weeks, without gaining a single concession, simply so his most unruly and revolutionary-minded members would believe he fought the good fight and stay in the Republican family. What he won is party unity, at least for the time being.

What Boehner lost for his Republicans is national respectability. Republican Party approval hit a record low in both the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll and Gallup poll.

Here’s where immigration advocates have a window of opportunity to appeal to Boehner’s party pragmatism. Their pitch: The best way to put this disaster behind them is for Republicans to score a big political victory. You need this.

A year after the Republican brand was so bloodied that the Republican National Committee had to commission a formal “autopsy,” party approval is the worst it has ever been. You’ve wasted a year. Now is the time to do something that some voters will actually like.

There’s reason to hope he could be swayed. In each of the four cases in which he allowed Democrats to carry the day, he put the short-term political needs of the Republican Party over the ideological demands of right-wing activists.

Boehner will have to do another round of kabuki. He can’t simply swallow the Senate bill in a day. There will have to be a House version that falls short of activists’ expectations, followed by tense House-Senate negotiations. Probably like in the most formulaic of movies, and like the fiscal cliff and debt limit deals, there will have to be an “all-is-lost moment” right before we get to the glorious ending. Boehner will need to given the room to do all this again.

But he won’t do it without a push. A real good push.


By: Bill Scher, The Week, October 18, 2013

October 20, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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