Summers’s forced withdrawal — an unprecedented insult to the president by members of his own party — was just the latest reminder of how both Obama and Boehner are facing questions about the strength of their leadership and whether they can avert a government shutdown or debt default that could significantly harm the economy.
Although a surprise Russian diplomatic proposal — to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control — has reduced the urgency for a congressional vote authorizing military action, lawmakers say the leaders remain hampered by sharp partisan divisions and intraparty conflicts.
“It’s almost as though it was the end of traditional power,” Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), a fierce Obama supporter, said of rank-and-file resistance to the president and the speaker. “I’ve been here for 20 years, and I’ve never seen so much of a repudiation of the conventional sources of power in the legislative or executive branch.”
“It portends for a much more chaotic fall,” he said.
The most pressing issue is forging an agreement to keep the government open past Sept. 30, when a funding measure expires. Boehner (R-Ohio) is struggling to gain the support of enough Republicans to endorse his budget strategy, the latest sign of the speaker’s weakened hold over his conference.
The results of that effort will have implications for a more important challenge next month, when Congress must raise the federal debt ceiling or risk an unprecedented default by the federal government.
But Obama, whose position on Syria was all but certain to be rejected, has problems within his own party. On the domestic front, some House Democrats are questioning his decision not to take a harder line in the upcoming debate against the deep spending cuts known as sequestration.
With declining public support, the president also must fend off GOP attacks on his signature health-care law, the Affordable Care Act, as his administration prepares to launch a centerpiece of the effort, online insurance marketplaces, in just two weeks.
In a series of events, beginning Monday morning with a Rose Garden speech, Obama will pivot from Syria to pressing for a deal to keep the government open and raise the debt ceiling. Analysts say the government might run out of money to pay all bills as soon as Oct. 18.
But as the president makes a public push, Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will be working their own members to generate support for a bill keeping the government open. Polls show that Americans will resoundingly blame the GOP if the government shuts down Oct. 1.