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The Morning Plum: Republicans may need Nancy Pelosi to bail them out

Top Democrats are increasingly convinced House Republicans will not be able, on their own, to avoid a catastrophic outcome in this fall’s fiscal confrontations. If true, it will mean Republicans will need lots of Democratic help either to raise the debt limit, or to continue funding the government, or both. They’ll need Dem help to avoid outcomes many Republicans themselves believe would be politically disastrous for their party.

This belief among Dems is only intensifying as the conservative push for a shutdown to defund Obamacare continues. In an interview with me, Dem Rep. Chris Van Hollen — a key member of the Dem leadership — said Dems expect Republicans to resolve internal differences by passing a debt limit hike with some kind of anti-Obamacare provision attached to make it palatable to conservatives. Van Hollen said:

“At the end of the day, Speaker Boehner will have to work with House Democrats if he wants to prevent the U.S. from defaulting on our debt obligations. It is possible House Republicans could pass a bill to lift the debt ceiling out of the House with Republican votes alone, but only if they attach ridiculous conditions — like the defunding of the Affordable Care Act.”

If true, this adds a significant complication to this fall’s confrontations. The basic idea would be that Republicans would bridge their intra-party divide over whether to use maximally destructive tactics — whether a government shutdown or a debt limit battle — to stymie Obamacare, by passing something that makes both sides happy.

House leaders have rebuffed the push from conservatives for a shutdown confrontation but have sought to soften the blow with conservatives by leaking word that it might be okay to use the debt limit as leverage against Obamacare. Since conservatives appear reluctant to accept either a debt limit hike without massive conditions or a surrender in the battle against Obamacare, one way out might be to attach an anti-Obamacare provision to a debt limit hike.

Van Hollen elaborated further on this scenario in an interview with Roll Call, noting that any such move would of course be a non-starter among Dems. At that point, Van Hollen noted, Boehner’s need for Dem support to proceed would maximize Dem leverage. It’s unclear whether this would require Boehner to break the fictional Hastert Rule — that would depend on how many Republicans are willing to allow a debt limit hike — but it’s worth noting that House GOP leaders have conspicuously refused to rule out breaking that “rule” on the debt limit. Meanwhile, Van Hollen is reiterating that Dems will not negotiate on the debt limit at all.

At a minimum, if Van Hollen’s reading of the coming brinksmanship is right, House GOP leaders will be faced with a stark choice. Either they alienate large swaths of conservatives further by entering into a conspiracy with Democrats to engage in full scale surrender (you can bet that the widespread realization that conservatives lack the leverage they’ve presumed would be ugly to behold); or governmental Armageddon is unleashed. Even if the worst is avoided, all of this maximizes the chances for extreme chaos and dysfunction this fall along the way.

* KEY HOUSE REPUBLICAN RETREATS ON IMMIGRATION: GOP Rep. Robert Goodlatte, at a town hall meeting, appeared to strengthen the demand that the border must be secured before any legalization of any kind can proceed. He also seemed to suggest openness to citizenship only for the DREAMers.

That’s unfortunate, because Goodlatte’s role as chair of the all-important Judiciary Committee, plus his previous willingness to entertain openness to some form of citizenship (without any special pathway) suggested the possibility of consensus on the issue.

* GOP HAS WEAK HAND IN SHUTDOWN FIGHT: Nonpartisan observer Charlie Cook breaks the news to Republicans gently: If they think they are going into this fall’s fiscal battles with anything other than an extremely weak hand, they are kidding themselves. Cook notes that while Obama’s numbers have been declining a bit, the bottom line is this:

While Obama’s numbers are hardly impressive, they are still much better than those for congressional Democrats, and they aren’t even in the same time zone as the bleak numbers for Republicans in Congress. This being the case, who goes into this fight with the least credibility? The answer is Republicans in Congress.

The constant drumbeat from Republicans about Obama’s decline in approval is all about creating the impression that they don’t have a weak hand in the coming confrontations, so it’s good to have a needed corrective.

 * GOP REMAINS DIVIDED OVER SHUTDOWN PUSH: David Drucker asks a good question: Does the fact that Chris Christie’s exhortation — that the GOP needs to start winning — was seen as newsworthy say something about the state of the party today? Yes, but as Drucker notes, the party remains divided over one of the very things that could make winning in 2014 harder — the conservative demand for a government shutdown push. So until the party decides against that destructive course, it’s unclear what any pep talk will accomplish.

* GOP IS NOT GOING TO LOSE THE HOUSE: A bracing reality check, on several levels, from Jonathan Chait, on the real consequences of House GOP extremism:

The danger for Republicans isn’t that they’ll lose the House. It isn’t even that they’ll irrevocably poison their own brand. It’s that they’ll create an intra-party orthodoxy so strong it will prevent them from nominating a candidate who can distance himself from Steve King’s racial ideology and Paul Ryan’s economic ideology. In the meantime, they can inflict an awful lot of damage to the country at very little cost to themselves.

In this scenario, of course, Republicans would struggle to win the presidency, which is probably why the “GOP establishment” is panicking.

* THE GOP’s OBAMACARE DILEMMA: Steve Benen nails it:

As we’ve seen in Nevada, Kentucky, and North Carolina, Republicans offer reassurances that there are some provisions in “Obamacare” that the GOP likes and wants to keep, which makes it that much more difficult to understand why those same Republicans have voted literally dozens of times to eliminate the Affordable Care Act in its entirety — including the parts they now say they support. All the while, Republicans have said for nearly four years they’re ready to present a credible alternative the reform law that’ll work even better than that darned Democratic version, but we’re still waiting, and by all appearances, the party still doesn’t have an actual health care policy.

Republicans need to decide whether their party supports an ambitious and meaningful role for the federal government in dramatically expanding coverage to the uninsured and fixing other problems in the health care system.

* OBAMA PRODS BANK REGULATORS FOR QUICKER ACTION: The New York Times reports that Obama is pressing bank regulators to move faster in implementing Dodd Frank, and to end “too big to fail,” to avoid a repeat of the 2008 crisis. The fifth anniversary of the Lehman collapse is now looming.

With Senators pushing their own measures to stiffen regulations on Wall Street, another interesting element in this mix is the pressure on Obama not to pick Larry Summers for Fed, given his pro-deregulatory past.

* RUBIO MAKES AMENDS FOR IMMIGRATION PUSH: The Hill reports that Marco Rubio, a key member of the Senate “gang of eight,” is busily making amends for his apostasy on immigration, and is not holding any events to move reform forward:

Instead, he has focused on building grassroots support for an aggressive plan to threaten a government shutdown unless the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as ObamaCare, is defunded.

The question, of course, is whether there is anything at this point that can make up for Rubio’s sin of working to compromise with Democrats to solve one of the country’s more pressing problems.

 * AND TED CRUZ WEIGHS IN ON IMPEACHMENT: Asked why we shouldn’t impeach Obama, the Texas demagogue offers his thoughts:

“It’s a good question,” Cruz responded, “and I’ll tell you the simplest answer: To successfully impeach a president you need the votes in the U.S. senate.”

However, National Review adds: “Cruz suggested he would not pursue impeaching Obama in 2014, even if Republicans then controlled both the House and Senate.”

What else?