They say you only get one chance to make first impression, and right now, I’m a little worried about how the new Republican majorities in the House and Senate are coming off in the very first days of the 114th Congress.
If you’ll permit me a short trip down Memory Lane, Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance took me back to my first swearing-in as a member of the House in 1985. I vividly remember how our caucus leader, Rep. Bob Michel of Illinois, would note (proudly!) in nearly every speech he gave that he was the “longest-serving minority leader” in history. Well, some of us that year were determined not to be in the minority much longer, and we had to buck our leadership every step of the way to get what we wanted.
“Speaker John Boehner” and “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell” have a real nice ring to them, but the bigger question is what the Republicans plan to do with the mandate the voters handed them in November. I’m seeing some worrying signs already.
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It was no surprise that some House conservatives showed their displeasure by voting against Mr. Boehner for speaker on Tuesday, but the size of the rebellion was a shock. Some 25 GOP representatives wouldn’t vote for Mr. Boehner and my House friends tell me they were a little surprised they didn’t get a few more votes. I know a little something counting noses, and the speaker may owe his first-round win to the fact that some 20 Democrats weren’t in the chamber because they were attending former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo’s funeral that same day; by my tally, if all those Democrats had showed up, the dissidents would have needed just one more vote to block Mr. Boehner.
And the revenge that the GOP leadership then took on the rebels also leaves me uneasy. I understand why the dissidents on the House Rules Committee lost their posts — that panel is considered an arm of the Speaker and has long been stocked with only the most loyal members. But the very public way other Boehner critics were ousted from plum committee assignments has created a lot of ill will and caused a huge uproar in the conservative community beyond Capitol Hill.
There’s even talk that some conservative House members will refuse to vote for any rule setting terms for legislative debate until the purge is repudiated and the rebels reinstated.
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Perhaps the worst part of all this is the pleasure it is affording the minority Democrats, who should be bracing to endure the worst two years of their legislative lives instead of reveling in Republican divisions.
There are worrying signs in the Senate, too, though no one should ever underestimate the skill and subtlety of Mr. McConnell as a legislator and strategist. However the new majority leader decides to go after the White House, you can bet that Mr. Obama will never see it coming until it hits him.
Mr. McConnell can start preparing the political landscape for 2016 by forcing Senate Democrats up for re-election to take a lot of votes they’d rather avoid. Those Democratic senators already saw the devastating impact of the 2014-cycle ads — “Senator X voted with President Obama 97 percent of the time” — and that might persuade more than a few to stand up to the White House and help defeat the coming Obama vetoes.
But we already have Mr. McConnell promising not to do anything “scary” now that Republicans are in command, taking a government shutdown off the table even before negotiations have begun with the White House. Even more unsettling are the comments of South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune apparently promising not to cut off funding even for the Department of Homeland Security to block the president’s unconstitutional actions on amnesty for illegal immigrants. (In the same Fox News interview, Mr. Thune even refused to rule out categorically a rise in the federal gas tax, at a time when no Republican anywhere should be talking about raising any taxes.)
If the Homeland Security plan is true, that would go against the explicit promise given to conservatives last year in the debate over the abominable “Cromnibus” spending bill. House Republicans, already nervous about where their leaders are taking them, would be apoplectic.
Speaking more broadly, conservatives are worried that the Boehners, McConnells and Thunes of the party are not pushing back harder against the false media narrative that the message of the November vote was that Republicans should “govern responsibly” and “find common ground” with the president to “get things done.”
Totally false! The message was loud, clear and simple: Stop President Obama and his leftist/socialist/anti-Constitution/big government philosophy in its tracks. Mr. Boehner in his first speech to the new House talked of building the Keystone pipeline, restoring the 40-hour workweek standard,and helping veterans.
All very nice, but the voters just demanded a bigger vision — repealing Obamacare, rolling back the immigration amnesty, balancing the budget, restoring the sensible welfare reforms we passed in the 1990s and that this president has totally gutted.
The House and Senate Republicans plan a joint retreat Jan. 15 and 16 in Pennsylvania to compare notes and plan their strategy for the next two years. If they don’t emerge with a real agenda that conservatives can rally behind, the “retreat” may last a lot longer than two days.
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