Why ‘Fast and Furious’ is a political loser

at 06:30 AM ET, 06/26/2012

The fight over Operation “Fast and Furious” recommences this week, as Congress returns to Washington today with a contempt vote on Attorney General Eric Holder looming.


U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (R) talks with House Oversight Committee and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) before a hearing on "Fast & Furious: Management Failures at the Department of Justice" on Capitol Hill in Washington, in this February 2, 2012, file photo. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Files
If both parties know what’s good for them, that vote will never happen. Why? In short, it’s a political loser for both sides that, if they choose to pursue it to its natural end, will wind up making both Democrats and Republicans look worse than people already think they are.

The vote that is expected to come on Thursday — yes, the same day that the Supreme Court is expected to announce its ruling on the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care law.

Let’s start with why House Republicans would be unwise to push for a contempt vote.

At the top of that list is the fact that Congress is just in­cred­ibly unpopular. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s Gallup’s trend line on Congressional approval:

The highest that congressional approval has been since February 2011 is 24 percent. (Yes, you read that right.) By pushing this fight against Obama — an issue that the Republican base cares deeply about but few others are terribly interested in at the moment — the Republican-held House is allowing Obama to talk about the 2012 election in terms of a choice between him and House GOPers. That’s a bad comparison for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has done his damnedest to emphasize that he’s never served one second in Washington.

The other major reason for House Republicans to turn the steering wheel in this game of political chicken is that every minute spent talking about “Fast and Furious” is one not spent talking about Obama’s handling of the economy. And the clearest path for Romney to win this fall is to turn the election into a straight referendum on Obama’s handling of the economy. (That’s the reason why Romney has been almost entirely silent on “Fast and Furious” to date.)

So, why wouldn’t the White House want this fight either?

While putting House Republicans front and center could be read as a positive for Obama, it’s clear that wrestling with them amounts to a no-win political situation for him too.

Given that, it’s hard to see how congressional approval sinks any lower, and the only impact of Obama’s stand-off with House Republicans is to be dragged down into the political mud with them. As Obama fights with congressional Republicans, Romney will spend his time talking about how he has the outside-Washington experience to fix what ails the economy.

Remember too that there is scant evidence in modern political history of voters viewing a presidential election as a choice between an incumbent and group that controls one of the chambers of Congress. To the extent this election will be a choice — and we still harbor doubts that it will be — it will be one between Obama and Romney, not Obama and House Republicans.

The “Fast and Furious” fight resembles nothing so much at the moment as the stand-off over the debt ceiling last summer. While the consequences are far less severe to the country’s well being, it’s worth remembering how much damage both parties did to themselves in the debt ceiling fight.

Given that, it’s hard to imagine either side wanting a replay this close to the November election.

Romney’s non-position problem: The (press) natives are getting restless.

After a weekend in which multiple publications documented the fact that Romneycontinues to decline to outline specific policies or take firm positions, it happened again on Monday.

Confronted with a major Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s immigration law, Romney’s campaign repeatedly declined to take a position on the law. And several outlets documented the verbal gymnastics Romney spokesman Rich Gorka went through while avoiding the issue, repeatedly turning aside questions about just whether Romney agreed with Arizona’s policy.

The transcript is rather amazing, with more than a dozen questions asking basically the same thing, and Gorka brushing it all aside.

How sustainable is this? And what happens when the media start pegging Romney as someone without any real policies or positions? We may soon find out.

Obama camp targets outsourcing in new ads: Obama’s campaign is going up with state-specific ads in Iowa, Ohio and Virginia today hitting Romney for outsourcing done by Bain Capital when Romney was at the firm.

The ads contrast Romney’s campaign ad promises to stand up to China with a Washington Post story from Friday about outsourcing at Bain.

In addition, Vice President Biden will address the issue during an appearance in Waterloo, Iowa.

Here are the spots: Iowa, Ohio, Virginia.

Fixbits:

Bloomberg’s Hans Nichols reports that the Democratic National Convention is considering canceling its kickoff event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway thanks to a roughly $27 million cash shortfall.

Top intelligence officials are cracking down on leaks to the media, even when they don’t rise to the level of criminal conduct.

A top Republican in Pennsylvania suggests the state’s new Voter ID law will help Romney. (Republicans generally don’t talk about that aspect of things, instead arguing that the law combats fraud.)

Longtime Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki will be his traveling press secretary.

Obama gets booed in Boston for joking about a trade between the Boston Red Sox and his Chicago White Sox.

Businessman John Brunner’s Missouri Senate campaign releases a poll showing him way ahead in the GOP primary to face Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

Ohio GOP Senate candidate Josh Mandel tells a reporter he’s “out of touch with reality.”

National Democrats have reserved $2.3 million in ad time for Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) reelection bid — a move that suggests caution in a race where Brown is favored.

Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson (R) distances himself from Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in his Senate campaign: “Mitch McConnell is not supporting me in the primaries, so I couldn’t care less.”

Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), who comes from one of the most Democratic districts held by a Republican in the country, will attend the Republican National Convention. Several Democrats in GOP-leaning districts are skipping their confab. Meanwhile, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) will skip the convention as he campaigns against Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)

A new poll for a Democratic-leaning super PAC shows freshman Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) leading repeat opponent Gary McDowell (D) 40 percent to 38 percent.

Bob Dole says he’s “not a Gingrich fan.”

Obama gives House Democrats a little fundraising help, penning a letter for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is taking a medical leave of absence, citing exhaustion.

Must-reads:

California GOP sinking into third-party status” — George Skelton, Los Angeles Times

Mia Love of Utah hopes to become the first black Republican woman in Congress” — Krissah Thompson, Washington Post

Arizona Ruling Only a Narrow Opening for Other States” — Julia Preston, New York Times

 
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