Scott Brown gives Republicans a reason to say 'Yes!'

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, January 21, 2010; A02

If Republicans turn up the volume any more in the gloating over their Senate victory in Massachusetts, Americans are going to need hearing protection.

At a Wednesday-morning news conference called by House GOP leaders, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) claimed to speak for the American people when she asked: "Mr. President and the majority, can you hear us now?"

"The American people spoke in Virginia," she continued, imitating the Verizon commercial that has been adopted by conservative "tea party" activists. "Can you hear us now?"

"The American people spoke in New Jersey. Can you hear us now?"

"And they certainly spoke last night in Massachusetts," she concluded. "Can you hear us now?

Of course they can hear you, Congresswoman. A deaf man could hear you.

What the American people don't hear is any offer by the Republicans to compromise with Democrats on health care, climate-change legislation, fiscal matters or much of anything else.

If anything, Scott Brown's surprise victory in Massachusetts on Tuesday seems to have left Republicans with the belief that their "party of no" strategy is working. After the Republican House leaders pronounced all the things they don't want to do -- "end . . . scrap . . . reject . . . has to be stopped . . . no to this . . . no . . . not to embark . . . isn't working" -- they cut off questioning after a couple of minutes and left.

"Is there any specific area of health-care reform where you could cooperate with Democrats?" NBC's Luke Russert called out to House Minority Leader John Boehner (D-Ohio). Boehner muttered something unintelligible and continued walking.

Even if Republicans were inclined to cooperate with Democrats, there's little political incentive for them to do so. Only 24 percent of Americans have a good amount of confidence in congressional Republicans, according to this month's Washington Post-ABC News poll. With that lowly standing -- even worse than the Democrats' -- Republicans' best hope is that Democrats achieve nothing this year and are punished by voters in November as do-nothing legislators.

Yet the Democrats, predictably, are falling into the GOP's trap and trimming their ambitions. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), in a statement calling on his party's leaders to suspend further health-care action before Brown is seated, calling it "vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders." As if that could be accomplished by the November midterm elections.

The Republican reaction to the Massachusetts results could be summarized in four words: nana nana boo boo.

Sarah Palin, minutes after Brown was declared the winner, announced a "wicked political pivot across our country" and a "tidal wave" of a victory that "can't be overstated."

Well, maybe it can be overstated. On the House floor, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) likened Tuesday's vote to the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord. "The people of Massachusetts have fired a second shot heard around the world," he said. "Our government, like the British, would do well never to underestimate the American people."

The Republican National Committee issued a research briefing titled "O-bandon Ship!" The voluble RNC chairman, Michael Steele, informed the viewers of "Good Morning America" that "the country is sighing a sigh of relief."

The office of Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House minority whip, issued a gloating e-mail titled "Dems in Chaos." In an underground TV studio in the Capitol complex, Cantor was among a quintet of Republican House members who climbed the podium Wednesday morning for the first round of bragging.

Cantor said that the Massachusetts victor, a former Cosmo centerfold, was "much like David in his fight against Goliath." Cantor went on to recall an earlier meeting he had with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). "I would guess this morning that perhaps he's thinking maybe he should have paid a bit more attention to that meeting," Cantor said.

Michigan's Miller, also avoiding the "graceful winner" label, took the opportunity to call Obama "the most partisan president that America has ever seen" and said Democrats got their comeuppance because they "rammed" the economic stimulus plan "down the throats of this Congress."

It was time for the next gloat session, in another studio on the third floor of the Capitol. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the Senate Republican leader, led half a dozen colleagues onto the stage and flashed a grin. The gesture, a rare one for McConnell, looked more like a grimace. "This was in many ways a national referendum principally on the major issue we're wrestling with here in Congress," he announced.

So is the health-care bill dead?

"I sure hope so," McConnell said.

And the cap-and-trade plan to limit carbon emissions?

"I would say there is minimal enthusiasm, to put it mildly," he said.

A deficit-reduction commission?

"I'm not going to decide today what we're going to do in the future," he said.

Obama's choice to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel?

"A significant number of my conference . . . have not felt she should go forward."

"So what are you prepared to work with the Democrats on?" ABC's Jonathan Karl inquired.

Maybe a retirement party.

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