John Boehner is widely expected to win re-election today as House Speaker, with perhaps only 15 or so conservative Republicans voting against him in the Great and Glorious Tea Party Coup of 2015. Multiple news accounts are casting this outcome as an opportunity for Boehner to display his independence from the Tea Party. As today’s New York Times puts it: “squashing a conservative uprising and winning handily on the first ballot would send a strong signal to House Republicans, as well as conservative outside groups, that he will not be cowed by recalcitrant members of his conference.”
Boehner won’t be cowed by the Tea Party! Boehner himself is very eager to be seen in this light — he is taking pains to cast himself as willing to buck the right to compromise with Democrats and get things done in the new Congress. Glenn Thrush has a must-read profile of Boehner, which contains this important anecdote:
Still, the idea of a Boehner-Obama bargain late in the game is no idle fantasy, and people close to Boehner say his relationship with the White House is sturdy enough to accommodate a big deal on taxes, entitlements and government spending, trade and immigration. Despite all the negativity in public, neither man has given up on direct negotiation…
Boehner, always looking for an opening to make a deal, thinks the GOP capture of the Senate — a body that can’t function without a modicum of bipartisanship — will make cooperation with Democrats the rule rather than the exception, Tea Party be damned. Boehner told me “bipartisanship” was in fact one of his top priorities for 2015, and, in private, in the wake of the 2013 shutdown debacle, Boehner told his inner circle that he has no problems passing big legislation “by working directly with the Democrats” if his own conference defies him again…
When I asked Boehner if he worried Republicans would slam him for dealing with Democrats, he blew a puff of smoke and answered, “I don’t care.”
So Boehner is still open to a “big deal” that would include immigration reform, and elsewhere in the piece, Thrush reports that one of Boehner’s top goals is to avoid reckless budgetary brinksmanship and government shutdown fights.
Good news, Mr. Speaker: If you want these things to happen, as the person who is in charge of the House of Representatives, you can help make them happen! It’s likely that what Boehner really means here is that Republicans will pass stuff that the president can’t sign and Congressional Democrats won’t support in meaningful numbers — but that is designed to split Dems by enticing a few of them to support it. Measures like a border security bill that rolls back Obama’s executive actions on deportations.
Passing that kind of thing is obviously the GOP’s right, since Republicans won the election. But the degree to which Boehner will actually prove willing to antagonize conservatives to work with Democrats on stuff that actually represents meaningful compromise — stuff that Boehner himself says he wants — is very much an open question. Yes, Boehner bucked the right to pass the recent bill funding the government through much of the year. But some battles are looming in which it is up to Boehner to decide how much needless drama we all get dragged through.
Take the debt ceiling: We all know from recent history that Republican leaders will end up raising it in the end to avoid disaster, and we all know getting that through the House will entail angering the Tea Party by getting it done with some Democratic support. If Boehner (who has long claimed not to want default) is really declaring independence from the Tea Party, he won’t put us through the motions of pretending otherwise by demanding unilateral concessions from Dems in exchange for not unleashing economic catastrophe.
Or take immigration reform. GOP leaders know the way to a real deal on the issue is to exchange some form of legalization, under strict conditions, for increased enforcement. Indeed, Thrush reports that this is something Boehner still tacitly wants. He supposedly “doesn’t care” about angering Republicans by working with Democrats. Thus, whether Republicans move towards a real deal on this issue is, you know, up to John Boehner.
Still, the above anecdote can also be taken as a useful admission. As Brian Beutler recently explained, the full GOP takeover of Congress — putting GOP leaders in total control of the Congressional agenda — means they can’t explain away their refusal to move towards bipartisan compromises they themselves say they want by claiming they can’t control their crazies. That’s what Boehner essentially, if unwittingly, confirmed above.
* BOEHNER LIKELY TO BE RE-ELECTED: The Hill’s latest whip count has 10 House Republicans voting against Boehner, and another seven as possible No votes — a total of 17. Given that you’d need 29 voting against him to force a second vote, and that Boehner would probably prevail there in the end, his re-election seems assured.
* CHART OF THE DAY: Via Aaron Blake, who looks at votes for Speaker over the last century, Boehner may prevail, but he will face the biggest revolt in any such vote since 1923. Still, if anything, given that he’s all but certain to be reelected, anyway, thanks to how many defections he can stand to lose, this only underscores how large a majority Boehner enjoys — the largest GOP majority in many decades.
* PUBLIC EXPECTATIONS LOW FOR GOP CONGRESS: A new CNN poll finds that all of 28 percent of Americans thinks the GOP will do a better job running the Senate did, and all of 30 percent say the new Congress will be more responsive to what the public wants.
And, not surprisingly, this is driven almost entirely by Republicans: In both cases, large majorities of independents and moderates think the new GOP Congress will be more of the same or worse.
* GOP WILL PROFIT FROM GRIDLOCK, SLUGGISH ECONOMY: Sahil Kapur talks to political scientists about the widespread claim that the new GOP Congressional majority needs to “show it can govern” or pay a political price for it, and finds that, well, it just isn’t really so:
“The president typically bears more of the blame [for bad outcomes] under divided government,” said John Sides, a political science professor at George Washington University. “If a lack of initiative hurts the economy, the president pays a price…So a sluggish economy and an unpopular president is helpful to Republicans up and down the ballot in 2016.”
Which, of course, doesn’t bode well for the likelihood that Republicans will look to avoid economy-damaging brinksmanship this year.
* KEYSTONE WOULD CAUSE ‘BARELY A RIPPLE’ FOR ECONOMY: With the battle over Keystone looming, and Republicans demanding Obama approve it to “42,000 jobs,” Glenn Kessler takes a close look at what the State Department’s report on the project really says about its economic impact. Conclusion: Keystone’s addition would represent “just 0.02 percent of annual economic activity across the nation,” and that “in the context of the U.S. economy, the impact is barely a ripple.”
But really: If a fact-checker debunks a GOP claim, and Republicans continue making it, anyway, was it ever really debunked at all?
* AND BOEHNER HAS PROFOUND RESPECT FOR THE PRESIDENT: Also from Glenn Thrush’s profile of Boehner, note this fun little anecdote:
Two former House leadership staffers who spent a lot of time around the speaker say it is not uncommon for Boehner to roll his eyes during one of Obama’s long spiels, set down the receiver on his desk with Obama’s muffled voice still droning over the line—as the speaker lights another Camel or gestures to an aide to hand him a file.
Without skipping a beat, he will pick up the phone just in time to register a standard “uh-huh” or “I’m not sure about that, Mr. President.”