John Boehner’s appearance on Face the Nation yesterday continues to get attention over the Speaker’s claim that House Republicans “should not be judged by how many new laws we create,” but rather by “how many laws we repeal.” And that is useful confirmation of the true nature of the “post policy” posture of today’s GOP.
But the more interesting thing in the interview with Boehner was that host Bob Schieffer pressed Boehner directly on a fact that too many commentators continue to ignore: The House Speaker is in control of whether immigration reform happens or whether it dies. And in the exchange, Boehner actually seemed to suggest he is not in control over what gets a vote in the end.
Asked repeatedly by Schieffer if he would allow a bill to come to a vote that provides a path to citizenship, Boehner hemmed and hawed a bit, but finally replied:
“This is about bringing these bills out here in a commonsense way. And I’m not going to predict what’s going to be on the floor and what isn’t going to be on the floor. Now that’s what you’re asking me to do. I can’t do that, and I don’t want to do that. My job in this process is to facilitate a discussion, and to facilitate a process so the American people can see what we’re doing and so the members understand that we’re dealing with this in a deliberative way.”
Yes, “facilitating discussion” is part of the Speaker’s job. But so is deciding what gets a vote and what doesn’t. So is leading.
In one sense it would be premature for Boehner to commit right now to supporting citizenship — which he also declined to do in the interview — or to allowing a vote on a final package with citizenship in it. But this exchange is nonetheless key, because it gets to the crux of why it’s actually helpful to Boehner for reporters and commentators — some of them liberals — to continue predicting there is no way immigration reform can ever pass, given how crazy those rank and file House conservatives are.
After the August recess, a bipartisan “gang of seven” proposal will likely be introduced in the House that includes a path to citizenship but with onerous provisions that put it significantly to the right of the Senate bill. What happens to this plan will be partly determined by Boehner and Paul Ryan, who is widely being seen as a pivotal player in the House on immigration. Does it get a vote? Does it get shoved into a committee process that shreds it? Do Boehner and Ryan get behind the plan — tacitly or overtly? Do they show leadership and take a bit of heat from the right in exchange for asking their rank and file to consider supporting a solution to a glaring national problem (remember, Boehner and other GOP leaders have explicitly said the system is broken and that we must act) that has plenty for both sides to dislike? What if House Republicans pass a few bills without citizenship, and conference negotiations produce something with citizenship that a majority of House Republicans can’t quite vote for — but that many Republicans can privately accept allowing to the floor? Does Boehner really nix a vote in that case?
Boehner wants you to believe immigration reform is all in the hands of his conference, that it’s a really tough or even impossible lift for many Republicans to support it, and that reform is likely dead as a result. Don’t believe me on this. Jon Ward, who is very well connected with the GOP leadership, reported recently that this is exactly the view GOP leaders want to take hold, because “a slow and unsurprising failure is far better, politically, than an unexpected one,” and because “the perception that the bill is nearly dead could strengthen Boehner’s hand in negotiations with Democrats and the White House.” Is supporting reform all that hard for the GOP leadership or for rank and file House Republicans? Boehner wants you to think that. But Ward — who, again, knows the House GOP caucus — suggests it remains unclear whether even the path to citizenship is dead among a majority of House Republicans, given that conditions remain in flux.
Predictions that immigration reform is dead help Boehner by removing the focus from the fact that in reality, he remains in control of whether it is dies or not. But as Schieffer put it bluntly during yesterday’s interview with the Speaker: “you’re the leader of the Republicans.” Good that somebody notices.
* OBAMA TO PRESS ON ECONOMY TODAY: The Post reports:
President Obama will deliver a series of speeches this week designed to push the economy, and his proposals to ensure its long-term growth, toward the center of the national political debate after months of focus on other issues. [...]
Obama will seek to remind the country, beginning with this week’s three scheduled speeches over two days, that the middle class remains imperiled by the lack of progress in Congress on his proposed job-creating measures and by Republican fiscal priorities.
Obama’s call for action to boost the economy and middle class should make an interesting contrast with Boehner’s claim Republicans think legislative success can be measured by how many laws are done away with.
* MITCH MCCONNELL HAS A PRIMARY CHALLENGER: It’s official: Tea Partyer and businessman Matt Bevin will challenge McConnell in a primary. As best as I can determine, Dems don’t believe Bevin has a chance of winning, but do think this could weaken McConnell in a general election, which is an uphill battle to be sure but one Dems do think can be won.
* YES, THE SEQUESTER IS HAVING A REAL IMPACT: HuffPo continues to do great work documenting the real world impact the sequester cuts are having, in this case on the federal public defender system. But this continues to pass under the radar of the Beltway and national media, so does it even matter?
* HOUSE REPUBLICANS REAP FARM SUBSIDIES, CUT FOOD STAMPS: House Democrats are set to release a new study today documenting the 14 House Republicans who got farm subsidies but voted to cut funding for food stamps, which should serve as neat clarification of their priorities.
House Republicans split the farm bill off from food stamp funding to win over enough conservatives to get it passed without Dem support, but last week failed to pass just the food stamp piece, which means it may end up getting restored by the Senate in conference and the GOP strategy may end up accomplishing nothing.
* KEEP AN EYE ON INDIANA TODAY: Last week conservatives excitedly pointed to the news that thanks to Obamacare, Indiana officials announced premiums would be 72 percent higher for those buying insurance on their own. But Jonathan Cohn pokes some holes in the announcement, noting that basic info needed to evaluate the claim was not even released, and that the federal subsidies under Obamacare were not even included in the evaluation.
The governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, is an avowed Obamacare foe. More info is expected to be released on this today that will shed more light on this claim, so watch for that.
* OBAMA’S PROSECUTION OF LEAKS CONTINUES TO DRAW CRITICISM: Don’t miss yesterday’s big New York Times overview of the Obama administration’s overly aggressive prosecution of national security leaks, and how it badly undermines his claim to want a more judicious balance between civil liberties and national security.
Attorney General Eric Holder recently unveiled a new series of guidelines designed to restore such a balance when it comes to seeking evidence from journalists. But last week the administration successfully got a court to rule that New York Times reporter James Risen must testify about a source in a criminal leak case brought by Holder’s Justice Department, undercutting Holder’s announcement and again angering advocates for freedom of the press.
* AND TODAY’S PLUM READS:
Very smart point from Steve Kornacki: Why Chris Christie may be forced to quit as New Jersey governor. Seriously.
Paul Krugman debunks the right’s effort to turn Detroit’s plight into confirmation of the conservative economic worldview, noting that this tale is at least as much about market forces as it is about fiscal irresponsibility and supposedly greedy public employees.
The Post editorial board presses the Obama administration and Congress to ensure that legally married gay couples enjoy the fruits of the Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, no matter what state they live in.
Bob Dole says it’s time for an end to GOP filibuster abuse: “It can’t continue, this constant holding up bills.” But, hey, Dole is a big loser…