The Plum Line

Morning Plum: Washington finally figures out that congressional GOP is disastrously broken

Opinion writer

It has taken the spectacle of a full blown meltdown — complete with Republicans openly weeping inside the Capitol and GOP leaders openly admitting their party is sinking to “rock bottom” — to get Washington to admit that the Congressional GOP may be fundamentally, disastrously broken.

Karen Tumulty captures the current state of play with one pithy phrase: “Less than a year after a sweeping electoral triumph, Republicans are on the verge of ceasing to function as a national political party.” The New York Times adds: “they appear unable to govern themselves.”

Let’s hope people remember this diagnosis when the next debt ceiling crisis hits.

It’s true that with Kevin McCarthy pulling out of the race for Speaker, the open trappings of chaos are more obvious than usual. But what we’re seeing now is only a more vivid manifestation of the problems inside the GOP that have led to one bout of crisis governing after another for years.

As we have been dragged through one debt ceiling and government shutdown crisis after another, it has been painfully obvious what is causing the impasse: A sizable bloc of House Republicans wants to use the threat of damage to the country as leverage to extract unilateral concessions from Democrats, no matter what harm is done in the process. That is their openly held position: they view this as justifiable, because the urgency of stopping the harm President Obama is doing to the country justifies such extraordinary measures. House GOP leaders have dragged us to the brink again and again, in hopes of placating the die-hards and making their demands magically disappear, only to throw up their hands, admit they can’t be placated, and end the crisis with the help of Democrats.

You might argue it is within the right of House Republicans to insist on the terms of their vote for raising the debt limit or funding the government — that this is how the system is supposed to work. Even if you grant that argument in this context, the basic problem has long been that observers refuse to accurately describe what their actual position is in demanding these terms. The resulting standoffs have for years been described as a failure to compromise, as if these have been conventional negotiations, in which each side is asking for what it wants, and the two fail to meet in the middle.

But that isn’t what has been happening. GOP leaders have publicly said they, too, want the debt limit raised (as Democrats do) to avoid default — and then have gone along with the base’s demand for unilateral concessions from Democrats in exchange for what they themselves say they want in order to avoid hurting the country.  That isn’t a conventional negotiation. Rather, it’s GOP leaders playing along with the charade that the opposition is supposed to give Republicans what they want in exchange for bringing about the outcome they themselves know must happen.

The current mess has made this basic dynamic unavoidably obvious. Commenting on the difficulty the next Speaker faces, John Boehner himself identified exactly what drives the party’s right flank, suggesting that conservative Republicans whip people “into a frenzy” by promising things “they know are never going to happen.” Such as using the debt limit to bend Obama and Dems to their will.

Another debt ceiling crisis is now probably more likely. That wing of the party is emboldened, and any replacement for Boehner may prove even less able to manage the situation. As Brian Beutler argues, Boehner could spare us this fall’s drama by putting in place a long term deal before leaving. If not, let’s hope that the now-widely-acknowledged root causes of GOP dysfunction will at least get people to see that the resulting crisis is the result of that dysfunction, not of some failure of both sides to “compromise.”

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* BOEHNER TRIES TO KEEP RESTIVE TROOPS IN LINE: Politico reports:

Speaker John Boehner will tell his colleagues in a closed meeting this morning that the House Republican Conference needs to stick together, and will suggest lawmakers should not draw firm lines on who they will vote for to replace him, according to a source with knowledge of his plans.

That’s reassuring. Surely everything will unfold in an orderly fashion from here on out.

* HOW CHAOS IN HOUSE CAN HURT GOP: Carl Hulse looks at the bedlam that has erupted now that Rep. Kevin McCarthy has pulled out of the race for Speaker, and concludes that Republicans appear unable to govern themselves, with many crises looming. Note:

Republicans face a tough re-election cycle in the Senate, defending seats, and their majority, in more than a half-dozen swing states. [Mitch] McConnell and his colleagues have emphasized their determination to govern and be productive, with Mr. McConnell vowing that he will not tolerate a government shutdown or a federal default. But it takes two chambers to pass legislation on Capitol Hill, and an extended crisis in the House could make it very difficult for him to keep his pledge.

If House GOP chaos amid debt limit and budget battles this fall helps cost Republicans the Senate, that would be an interesting outcome.

* OBAMA WEIGHING EXECUTIVE ACTION ON GUNS: Juliet Eilperin scoops that the Obama administration is taking another look at using executive action to close loopholes in the background check system. This is the proposal Hillary Clinton unveiled the other day.

As I reported earlier this week, the administration had looked at this idea in 2013 but put it aside out of doubts about its workability. It now looks like it has been revived, though it’s unclear whether those doubts can still be overcome.

* ANOTHER CAMPUS SHOOTING: Another day, another…

Officials say one person is dead and three others are wounded following an early morning shooting at Northern Arizona University. School public relations director Cindy Brown says the suspected shooter is in custody.

Whatever happened in this particular case, remember that there is a blanket prohibition on “politicizing” shootings by even beginning to ask whether something can be done about the broader problem here.

* HYPING HILLARY EMAIL STORIES: Philip Bump talks to experts and concludes that the stories about hacking into Hillary Clinton’s emails and the “wiping” of her server might not be as bad as they sound:

People don’t really understand how the Internet works, and so the stories might sound more ominous than they otherwise would….a lot of assessments of Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail server make very big mountains out of what might be very small molehills.

Yes, but those nefarious-sounding stories are dragging down her numbers, so let’s write about how bad these stories are for her politically, instead of writing about the actual significance of those stories.

* McCARTHY EXPOSES FRAUDULENCE OF OUR DEBATES: Paul Krugman argues that Kevin McCarthy’s candor about the Benghazi probe driving down Clinton’s numbers reveals a much broader problem: Republicans are fundamentally unserious about many policy debates:

The done thing, it seems, is to pretend that we’re having real debates about national security or economics even when it’s both obvious and easy to show that nothing of the kind is actually taking place. But turning our eyes away from political fakery, pretending that we’re having a serious discussion when we aren’t, is itself a kind of fraudulence. Mr. McCarthy inadvertently did the nation a big favor with his ill-advised honesty, but telling the public what’s really going on shouldn’t depend on politicians with loose lips.

In other words, those who don’t admit it when Republican policy arguments are basically gibberish are complicit in misleading people.

 

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