Four years ago, while newly-inaugurated President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama danced across Washington D.C. at inaugural balls, key Republicans began plotting how to destroy the new president’s political power and stop his policies before they got started.
The strategy was hatched in a meeting at the Caucus Room by a group including leaders like Congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan. The plan involved blocking all of Obama’s policies, opposing his economic plan, and “jabbing relentlessly” at the new president. The explicit goal was to make President Obama a one-term president.
But that plan failed, and today there are signs that the GOP may be turning away from the automatic obstructionism which defined the last four years. Republican leadership began Inauguration Day by heading to the White House for a cordial social meeting with the president. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, and House Minority Leader Eric Cantor even brought their wives along for a morning coffee date with the Obamas and Bidens.
Congressman Paul Ryan, one of the key attendees of 2009’s Caucus Room plot, seems to have taken a new tone in 2013, encouraging GOP House leadership to take a new approach in their relationship with President Obama. “While we aspire to give the country a very specific and clear vision about what we think is the right way to go on the major big issues of the time, we have to at the same time recognize the divided government moment that we have and the fiscal deadlines that are approaching, what those involve and then how we’re going to proceed forward,” Ryan said.
On Wednesday, Republicans took Ryan’s advice and backed down on what was set to be their second big battle of 2013, as nearly 200 Republicans voted to raise the debt ceiling with no spending cuts.
That’s a far cry from what we heard earlier in January, when Senator John McCain called it the upcoming “field of battle,” Senator Lindsey Graham told his colleagues “save your powder for the debt ceiling fight,” and Senator Ted Cruz said “I think we have to be prepared to go so far as to shut the government down.”
That government shutdown? Not happening. And not because Republicans got the spending deal they wanted.
Joy Reid of theGrio.com said on PoliticsNation Wednesday she believes the GOP is backing down now because with the president reelected, they’ve lost clout. “The one thing they cared about since 2009 January was making sure Barack Obama was a one-term president,” she said. “That’s the only reason they were willing to gamble with the full faith and credit of the United States the first time. Now that they’ve failed in their prime directive which is making sure Barack Obama didn’t get reelected, there really is no reason to do that brinkmanship again and risk the credit rating of the country, because the credit downgrade was supposed to take Obama down, and it didn’t.”
Perhaps they took a look at the polls that show their brand has suffered mightily during the 112th Congress, known for its nearly unparalleled obstructionism. Or maybe they noticed the poll from late December that showed a majority of Americans think the GOP doesn’t compromises enough.
President Obama echoed the sentiments of the many Americans around the country who are fed up with the slow pace of progress in his inaugural speech. “For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay,” he said. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.”