It’s often observed that the House GOP’s lurch to the right on policy and periodic outbreaks of reckless brinksmanship have made life difficult for statewide GOP candidates who are trying to appeal to a more diverse electorate than that found in many House GOP districts.
Case in point: Thom Tillis, who is running for Senate in North Carolina. In a remarkable interview with Byron York, Tillis neatly illustrates that broader dynamic:
On Obamacare, Tillis, like nearly every other Republican running for federal office, said, “I think we have to repeal it.” The new system hurts far more people than it benefits and is “unsustainable” in the long run, he said. Still, Tillis is concerned that Capitol Hill Republicans haven’t united behind an Obamacare alternative. “Republicans have to have an answer to the when-you-repeal-it-what-are-you-replacing-it-with question,” he said. “We owe the American people a solution to the problem.”
Tillis is under no illusions that the GOP, even if it controlled the House and Senate, could actually repeal Obamacare with its namesake still in the White House. And even after, given the structure of exchanges and subsidies that now exists, repeal can’t be done in one fell swoop. “I think you’re going to have to ramp it down,” Tillis said. “Any repeal measure needs to be married with how do you provide a landing, or a transition, to some of those who are on Obamacare.”
On immigration, Tillis called the Republicans who voted last year for the Gang of Eight bipartisan reform bill “well intentioned.” But he said the reform process “meandered and started expanding to a point where they lost sight of what needs to be done first” — that is, securing the border. Tillis said he would have voted “no” on the bill.
On last year’s government shutdown, Tillis tried to make clear that he would not have supported it, but he took care not to demean the motives of the Republicans who did. “I think what some of the members did was well-intentioned,” he said, but “you’ve got to fund government operations.”
So Tillis attacks House Republicans for failing to produce an alternative to Obamacare. (He is running for Senate; is there anything stopping him from offering one?) He suggests a “transition” for those currently on Obamacare, effectively adopting the Scott Brown position that we should repeal Obamacare, but maybe not immediately for those who are benefiting from it. This again suggests that Tillis — who has vaguely suggested we should keep the good things in the law, without saying how — knows that repeal alone, and the House GOP’s endless repeal votes without offering any alternative, aren’t a political winner.
Tillis also seems to come out against the House GOP government shutdown. But as Democrats were quick to point out, Tillis supported the shutdown last fall, when he was locked in a primary, another indication of how House GOP antics have pulled candidates to the right.
Meanwhile, Tillis vaguely tries to strike a more moderate tone on immigration than that of House Republicans. How might he have answered if he’d been asked directly if he agrees with the House GOP vote to deport the DREAMers in response to the current border crisis?
The broader trend to watch here will be the ways Republicans with statewide and national ambitions seek to distance themselves from what has become of today’s House GOP. Which brings us to our next item.
* 2016 GOP HOPEFULS STRIKE MODERATE TONE ON IMMIGRATION: Michael Barbaro has a good piece documenting that Republicans eying a White House run (Chris Christie; Rand Paul; Scott Walker) are searching for new and creative ways to paint themselves as more tolerant on immigration than House Republicans.
But once Obama acts unilaterally to ease deportations, 2016 GOP candidates may come under pressure to vow to undo his action, complicating any such moderating efforts. Still, the mere fact that they are trying is itself recognition that the House GOP push for ever more deportations has moved the party further right on immigration than even Mitt “self deportation” Romney in 2012.
* DEMS BACK OBAMA ON IRAQ: On the Sunday shows, Congressional Democrats largely backed Obama’s limited bombing campaign against the Islamic State, arguing that Iraq had to sort out its own political problems, while Republicans kept up the drumbeat demanding more military involvement.
Meanwhile, leading liberals like Elizabeth Warren and Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Keith Ellison have cautiously endorsed Obama’s action, suggesting the left wing of the party is adopting a wait-and-see posture while remaining deeply wary of getting drawn back into war.
* 2016 GOP CANDIDATES BASH OBAMA ON IRAQ: Meanwhile, Republican presidential hopefuls are staking out their own position on Obama’s action: They support the bombing, but want him to articulate a broader foreign policy vision, and at least one is bashing him for not keeping troops in Iraq previously. Of course, it’s not clear that was even possible.
* REPUBLICANS SLAM OBAMA WEAKNESS ON IRAQ: Meanwhile, John McCain and Lindsey Graham are pushing the argument that overall, Obama’s limited bombing is insufficient, implicitly calling for more and deeper military engagement.
Prediction: Republicans with presidential ambitions will tend to avoid calling for more engagement as directly, instead keeping their criticism in more vague “Obama lacks a coherent strategy” territory.
* GOP SEES CHANCE AT STATE-LEVEL GAINS: The New York Times reports that Republicans see a chance to pick up as many as half dozen more state legislative chambers this fall, and here’s why the stakes are so high:
At a time when Democrats and Republicans in control of statehouses are using their authority to push through ambitious policies that by contrast highlight the paralysis in Washington, the potential for further Republican gains has raised the possibility of deepening the policy divide between red and blue states. Republicans now control 59 of the 99 partisan legislative chambers, and have complete political control — both legislative houses and the governor’s mansion — in 23 states, while Democrats control 13.
Notably, the Koch brothers are now spending on obscure state-legislative races, well aware that total control of states makes it easier to drive a conservative agenda such as that of Scott Walker in Wisconsin.
* THE PROBLEM WITH LATEST ANTI-OBAMACARE LAWSUIT: Yale law professor Abbe Gluck makes the case that the Halbig challenge, which argues that the law didn’t make subsidies available to those on the federal exchange, has a high legal bar to clear:
The Affordable Care Act, read textually in context and as a whole — as interpreters of all stripes (textualist, purposivist, pragmatist) agree statutes should ideally be read — makes clear that the subsidies are to be provided on federal exchanges….this is a law case, and all the government needs to show under the law is that the statutory text is, at a minimum, ambiguous — that there are at least two ways it can be read. The court and the challengers (alongside the Congressional Budget Office, the reporters covering the statute’s enactment and former staffers and elected members) already have made that case, and then some.
As the Fourth Circuit decision found.
* AND THE CASE FOR EXECUTIVE ACTION ON DEPORTATIONS: The New York Times has a strong editorial arguing not just that Obama is on firm legal ground in acting to temporarily shield more people from deportations, but crucially, that it’s the right thing to do in policy terms:
There is clearly a value to a program, however limited, that tells the enshadowed population: Come out, give us your names; keep working and paying taxes, supporting your families and staying off the dole. And the national interest goes well beyond such practical benefits. Consider the cost, in lawlessness and squandered resources, of indiscriminate immigration enforcement. The wastefulness of chasing millions who pose no threat but keep the economy afloat. The crime and exploitation that flourish wherever the undocumented remain hidden and vulnerable. The rampant wage-and-hour violations that off-the-books workers endure in silence.
The key point made here is that, if this is indeed legal, then the choice is then between acting and perpetuating the untenable status quo.