For as long as John Boehner has been Speaker of the House, his majority has been defined by its intransigence. This isn’t spin cooked up by Boehner’s liberal critics or by Democrats on the other side of the aisle. Boehner himself has at times seemed to revel in the barking madness of his hardline members.
That’s not to say Boehner enjoys this aspect of his job. It’s generally been a problem for him. But his willingness to grapple publicly with the difficulties he faces isn’t just self-effacing charm. It’s also cunning. To make progress, it follows, his members must be placated. How can he be expected to corral his herd of beasts if Democrats refuse to appease them?
It’s what has allowed him to say things like, “[t]he votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit,” when the opposite is clearly true.
But that was before. Starting in January, Republicans will control Congress completely. Obviously this doesn’t obligate them to advance any particular, or constructive agenda. The last six years have demonstrated that there’s more political upside for Republicans in gridlock than in cooperation with Democrats. But now that they’re calling all of the shots, you might think Boehner, along with incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, would stop talking about their own members as irrational animals that can’t easily be controlled.
Per Bloomberg: "McConnell said Obama’s plans to take executive action on immigration, if Congress doesn’t act, would amount to ‘waving a red flag in front of a bull.’”
It’s hard to fault GOP leaders for playing expectations games, if expectations games allow them to escape accountability for the actions and agency of their members. But that really shouldn't be an effective tactic anymore. Republicans and Democrats are coequals now. President Obama will do some stuff that Congressional Republicans won’t like, and vice versa. But the fact that Boehner and McConnell announced that they would “renew our commitment to repeal Obamacare” doesn’t give Obama an excuse to write off Congress, or act recklessly, or even to duck negotiations over specific reforms to the Affordable Care Act.
The administration would endure endless derision if Obama or his top aides said Obama wouldn’t cooperate with Republicans because their latest Obamacare repeal vote had “poisoned the well.” When congressional Republicans used the same language prior to the election, you could at least chalk it up to the fact that the Democrats controlled more of the agenda than they did, and that they weren’t pleased with the terms. But that’s not true anymore. If Republicans decide not to tee up immigration legislation, it’s because they don’t want to pass immigration legislation.
They shouldn’t be able to lay that decision at Obama’s feet, on the grounds that they’re too unruly to be controlled. And if they are, then consider the implications of placing a party that’s been commandeered by such waspish politicians in charge of votes on issues like ISIS, Ebola, or the debt limit.